A stormy pall brooded over storied July 4th traditions in parts of Minnesota Wednesday, forcing some to trade parades for washed-out streets and others to swap sparklers for sandbags.
In the Twin Cities, some parades and fireworks were canceled as Mother Nature dropped a booming show of thunderstorms across the region. In Bemidji, officials were cleaning up downed trees, branches and power lines after being hit early Wednesday by what National Weather Service officials called an EF-1 tornado. And from Redwood Falls to the Iowa border, southern Minnesota cities scrambled to respond to rising waters seeping into businesses and homes.
“They don’t need any more rain in southern Minnesota,” said Michelle Margraf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen.
Murray County was the only county to request state assistance after 8 to 10 inches of rainfall fell Tuesday — double the amount of rain that typically falls the entire month of July.
By late Wednesday, the worst seemed to be over, with water receding in many places and cleanup beginning.
Tuesday and Wednesday’s rain added to already saturated ground and swollen rivers and lakes from June rainfall.
South of Tracy, Lake Shetek received 8.6 inches of rainfall, mostly within two hours Tuesday, contributing to the lake spilling over its banks. The Redwood River rose 6 feet Tuesday in Redwood Falls and reached a record high level farther west in Marshall. And the Cottonwood River, which flows into the Minnesota River in New Ulm, is expected to reach major flood stage by Thursday.
As a result of the flooding, road closures continued across southwestern Minnesota.
Near Slayton, volunteers joined city and county crews scooping sand and sending the stuffed bags in truckloads to residents and businesses on Lake Shetek. They filled more than 8,000 sandbags Tuesday and started right back to work at daybreak on Wednesday, said Chris LeTendre of the Slayton fire department.
In nearby Lyon County, this week’s storms left a few drivers stranded and some homeowners displaced after 75 to 100 basements filled with water or raw sewage, Tracy Police Chief Jason Lichty said. The water knocked down a basement wall in one home and forced others to shut off their utilities. About five families had to evacuate and seek shelter.
“I’ve worked in Tracy for about 20 years,” Lichty said. “This is the most rain I’ve ever seen in one event.”
The worst is over
The familiar checkout beeps sounded throughout Tracy Food Pride Wednesday morning, a welcome sound to the grocer, who had to close up shop Tuesday to deal with the water lapping at his front and back door.
Bruce Schelhaas had to fortify the outside entrance to his backroom with sandbags to slow the water.
“We didn’t lose any product, but we lost a lot of sales [Tuesday],” Schelhaas said.
On the famed banks of Plum Creek, Erin Richards worked to save and scrub pioneer pinafores, frocks, bonnets and other costumes from the flooded Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant site in Walnut Grove.
The summer pageant, which each July brings Laura’s story to life, was scheduled to begin Friday. But opening night has now been pushed to July 12. Richards, the pageant director, found the site swimming in 3 to 8 feet of water Tuesday, which damaged sets, costumes and sound and light equipment.
By Wednesday morning, Richards said the water had receded enough that crews could begin cleaning up.
Across the region, farmers took stock of their flooded fields, trying to divine what crop damage may be hidden under all the standing water.
“Some are calling it a 500-year rain. Unbelievable amounts,” said Joel Mathiowetz, who raises corn, soybeans and peas east of Redwood Falls.
Mathiowetz said the excess water has him especially concerned about his 40 acres of peas, which are sensitive to moisture. “We’ll harvest what’s available, but it’s not going to be very much,” he said.
On a farm southwest of Redwood Falls, Bruce Tiffany knows it’s likely too late in the year to replant any of his corn, soybean and sweet corn fields.
Water has pooled into ponds across the roughly 2,000 acres that Tiffany farms with his son. He estimates 5 to 10 percent of his crop may be washed out.
North of Redwood Falls in Renville County, Sheriff’s Office dispatchers said they were busy responding to flooding reports. The Sheriff’s Office captured dramatic video of a car that had nose-dived into a crevice in a township road that was washed out from rain. The 16-year-old driver escaped Tuesday morning from the car without any injuries.
Raining on parades
In the Twin Cities, high winds were reported, with gusts up to 43 mph at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Stormy weather pushed Eagan to cancel its parade Wednesday morning, but it was able to hold afternoon events. In northern Minnesota, Duluth moved its July 4th fireworks and city celebrations to Thursday.
In Marshall, where all the city parks are named after things like Justice, Freedom and Liberty, residents rallied to celebrate fireworks despite floodwaters overtaking much of Independence Park.
The show had to go on, Mayor Bob Byrnes said, adding that it’s a much-anticipated annual event for the thousands of area residents. And, he added, it would be a welcome break for those who spent Wednesday cleaning out flooded basements.
“People look forward to this,” he said. “It’s kind of what people expect.”
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