An onslaught of rain is putting parts of Minnesota underwater, jeopardizing mom-and-pop resorts in northern Minnesota, flooding out farm fields in the south and forcing homeowners across the state to frantically build dikes to keep overflowing lakes and creeks at bay.
“And it’s not going to get better for the next four days or so,” said Dan Luna, chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. “I wish I could tell you the worst is over, but that’s just not the case here.”
The problem is that it’s difficult to know how bad it’s going to get for some parts of the state because “thunderstorm rains can vary dramatically,” he said. “This week might make or break us.”
Those thunderstorms will continue to pop up between brief spells of sunshine, the Weather Service said. Southern counties along the Iowa border are expected to get the heaviest rainfall.
Gov. Mark Dayton is headed north to water-weary International Falls on Tuesday and hopes to visit southwestern Minnesota later in the week to begin assessing water damage.
Koochiching County Sheriff Brian Jespersen said at least one rural home was inundated with 5 feet of water that overflowed from the Rainy River. Dozens of other homeowners are hoping hastily constructed dikes will hold back the river that might peak in the next day or two. And on Rainy Lake, about 150 homeowners are piling sandbags to keep the lake out of homes.
“It might be one to three weeks before Rainy Lake peaks,” Jespersen said. “And that could put more homes in danger. The lake has been coming up 2 inches a day for the last four or five.”
Rising waters and wicked winds have hammered shorelines and destroyed docks. Continued rains are pushing many people along advancing shorelines to the brink.
“We’re all on eggshells up here,” said Phil Hart, part owner of the Pine Tree Cove Resort on Lake Kabetogama near Voyageurs National Park. If the Kettle Falls dam closes, Hart said, the small resorts around Lake Kabetogama probably will pay the price. “If they do that, we’re just going to be rising and rising and rising. We’ll be diking places and pumping out water until we lose. It’s really a bad situation.”
The Twin Cities area already has tallied 20.2 inches of rain and other precipitation since the start of 2014, nearly double the normal 11.77 for this time of year, making it the third-wettest year on record. That has meant record-high lake levels, an overflowing Minnehaha Creek and fast-moving rivers that have proved to be lethal. Homeowners in Edina, St. Louis Park and Hopkins are being forced to maintain sandbag dikes to protect their homes from the ever rising and falling creek.
“This has been unprecedented,” said Telly Mamayek, spokeswoman for the Minnehaha Watershed District. The creek seemed to handle most of the winter snowmelt just fine, she said. “And then the floodgates opened up from the heavens.”
And it just keeps coming for many parts of Minnesota. The southwest part of the state was soaked with 2 and more inches of rain on Monday, and high winds, with gusts up to 60 mph, downed trees and scattered debris. The area could get a total of 5 to 8 inches of rain by week’s end, Luna said.
Dayton had a phone conference with officials from the Luverne and Edgerton areas Monday afternoon and pledged state support to repair the damage.
The stormy consequences prompted activation of the State Emergency Operations Center, meaning that staff from state Homeland Security and Emergency Management will coordinate with other state agencies to determine what assistance local officials need. As of Monday night, no communities had requested help.
On Tuesday, International Falls Mayor Bob Anderson expects to go along with the governor as he tours the areas where volunteers have filled more than 80,000 sandbags to hold back the Rainy River and Rainy Lake.
The flooding on the Rainy River “is historic,” Anderson said. “It’s been at least 85 years since we’ve had anything like this.”
In the Voyageurs National Park area, rising waters and “tropical force winds” broke up some docks and breakwalls and submerged many others. For Pine Tree Cove Resort’s Hart, the damage probably will total $80,000 to $90,000, which can become a hardship for family-owned businesses.
With docks missing, boaters are having to pull their rigs in and out of the water each day. But so far, no resorts have had to shut down and few customers have bagged their vacations because of the overabundance of water. Hazardous conditions, however, forced Voyageurs officials to close 24 campsites.
Summer is such a short season, said Betsey Warrington, part owner of the Arrowhead Lodge and Resort on Lake Kabetogama. “To have this happen after going through such a horrific winter … well, you have to all stick together and know that we’re all in the same boat.”
And find a silver lining.
“Over at Moosehorn [Resort] someone caught a fish off the deck of their cabin,” Warrington said. “I called some of our guests who come up every year. … I told them you don’t even have to bring your boat this year. You can fish right off your deck.”
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.