Minnesota state of emergency wears on for extra 30 days

A state of emergency was extended for 35 counties as swollen rivers threaten to cause more flooding – and damage.

As the state’s largest rivers, including the Mississippi, St. Croix and Minnesota, continued to build Monday, Minnesota extended a state of emergency declaration for 35 waterlogged counties.

“We still have a building emergency,” Gov. Mark Dayton said. “A lot more is going to need to be done.” The move continues the state of emergency, which Dayton declared last week, for another 30 days.

St. Paul filed paperwork with the state Monday declaring a state of emergency as it tries to recoup some of the $1.7 million it expects to spend on flood relief efforts. The Mississippi River is expected to crest in St. Paul at 20.5 feet Thursday, a mark the city says would be its sixth-highest on record.

City officials said they are responding in numerous ways to the rising river, such as erecting flood walls and barricades, closing roads and parks, placing portable pumps at strategic areas throughout the city, adding reserve and off-duty police officers and fire personnel to ensure public safety and increasing crews to support debris cleanup.

“It is a manageable weather event, based on current river crest forecasts, but financial damages to the city are rising,” said Tonya Tennessen, spokeswoman for Mayor Chris Coleman.

On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it would release $750,000 to help the state repair flood-damaged roads.

“These funds are a down payment to help Minnesotans begin repairing roads damaged in last week’s flooding,” Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “One of the first steps in getting repairs underway is to make funds available and we are working to ensure the state can get the necessary work started quickly.”

The weather was sunny and dry throughout much of the state Monday, though rain was forecast for northern Minnesota. Through midday Monday, the Twin Cities had received 21.67 inches of precipitation since April 1, according to assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay. That’s the most for April through June in 143 years of records, and surpasses the previous record of 18.89, set in 1908, with a week left to pad the total. While showers are possible Tuesday through the weekend, heavy rains or severe storms are unlikely, according to the National Weather Service.

Informing the president

Dayton said that he expected that given the impact of the storm ravages, which caused mudslides, flooded homes, washed-out roads and destroyed crops, Minnesota will qualify for federal disaster assistance. That declaration is unlikely until the floodwaters recede.

“The scale of it is overwhelming,” said Dayton, who toured the southern Minnesota flood zone last week and expects to tour metro-area spots Tuesday.

Dayton also hopes to make a personal appeal to President Obama for help when the president visits Minnesota on Thursday. “I will certainly be bringing the subject up with him,” Dayton said.

The state has a $3 million disaster relief fund approved to help communities in tough times. Dayton said that fund may be exhausted by the extent of the damage. If so, the governor would need to call a special session of the Legislature to approve more help.

The DFL governor said he does not worry about getting bipartisan approval for such a move.

“When we have these kind of disasters, we’re not Republicans or Democrats. We’re all Minnesotans,” Dayton said.

Roads closed

Minnesota officials from all over the state are telling tales of devastation.

Blakeley Township remained evacuated because landslides washed out the roads, forcing them to close.

“Flooding and landslides in the community of Jordan have caused damage as the Sand Creek rises out of its banks; and folks in Prior Lake continue to watch with dismay as heavy rains show no sign of slowing the rise in lake levels not seen for 50 years,” Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, wrote to constituents on Monday.

The Mississippi River rose above flood stage in at least two southeastern Minnesota towns — Wabasha and Winona — early Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

The river is expected to rise several more inches by Saturday, but in the meantime, Wabasha tried to spread the word that it’s open for business after people canceled weekend plans in the city.

“Flooding? No, and where?” said Cheri Wright, executive director of the Wabasha-Kellogg Chamber of Commerce. “I’m on Main Street and I’m wearing open-toed shoes.”

Upstream in Newport, the City Council planned to meet for an emergency session Tuesday to decide whether to declare a state of emergency after Mississippi floodwater seeped underneath one of the city’s main levees, overwhelming several homes and buildings.

While the city tried to reinforce the levee with sandbags Monday, it also set up a sand station for residents to fill sandbags for their properties.

In nearby Cottage Grove, the public works and public safety departments met to discuss the possibility of sandbag deployment. And across the river in South St. Paul, officials closed Hardman Avenue south of Interstate 94 to prepare flood control systems.

Commuters weathered three major highway closings Monday because of flood-swollen rivers. Flooding along the Minnesota River has gotten the better of Hwy. 41 in Chaska and Hwy. 101 in Shakopee, forcing travelers to switch to an already heavily used Hwy. 169 over the Bloomington Ferry Bridge as well as northbound Interstate 35W farther to the east.

Rising waters on the St. Croix River shuttered the Stillwater Lift Bridge, which connects Hwy. 36 on the Minnesota side to Wisconsin’s Hwy. 64. The bridge “will be closed until further notice,” said Denise Workcuff, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The river is expected to crest later this week.

 

Star Tribune staff writers Tim Harlow, Jennifer Brooks, Jim Anderson and Bill McAuliffe contributed to this report.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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