WASECA, MINN. – Torrential rains that saturated already sodden ground in this southern Minnesota city overwhelmed storm and sanitary sewers, washed out roads and turned the city’s ice hockey arena into a wading pool on Thursday.
School was canceled, the city library closed and athletic fields turned into lakes — navigable by kayaks — after more than 10 inches of rain fell over a two-day period ending early Thursday — most of it overnight Wednesday. “It’s pretty much going to be a swimming day,” said Waseca High School sophomore Brandon Dahnert.
Waseca was awash, but it wasn’t alone. Across southern Minnesota, heavy rain caused havoc, flooding roads and intersections and even forcing highway officials to use snowplows to help clear water off some roads, including Interstate 94. The fresh deluge followed a night of record-setting downpours in many communities.
More rain is expected over the area from Friday into early next week, an unusual pattern for September, forecasters say. Minneapolis has seen 30.81 inches of rain so far this year, the most ever recorded for that period, according to the National Weather Service. The year 1911 set the rain record for a whole year with 40.15 inches; by this time that year, 29.58 inches of rain had fallen, according to Weather Service records.
No deaths or injuries were reported from the latest deluge, but late Wednesday, a man in his early 20s who had been exploring the Mississippi riverbank in Minneapolis came perilously close to being washed away before emergency responders pulled him to safety.
“The current was so strong, it ripped some of his clothes off,” said Minneapolis police Sgt. Catherine Michal. “The kid was dangling by a rope; he was just barely hanging on.”
The drama unfolded about 8:45 p.m. under the 10th Avenue Bridge within sight of the University of Minnesota, where officers Molly Trupe and Craig Brown and Hennepin County paramedic Chad Durand were among emergency responders.
At one point, footage from Trupe’s body camera shows her looking over the edge to see the man screaming for help as water rushes over him. Brown’s body camera fell into the river.
“He was thankful ... realizing he ultimately could have perished last night,” Durand said Thursday. The man also was feeling a little sheepish Thursday and didn’t want his name released, Michal said.
Rain was heavy across the central Twin Cities; more than 3 inches fell overnight Wednesday in Minneapolis, where the rescue occurred. But it was even heavier just to the north. On Thursday morning, the Weather Service reported these 24-hour totals: 7.65 inches in Fridley, 7.15 in Maple Grove and 5.88 in Brooklyn Park.
In Freeborn County, along the Iowa border, where 3 to 4 inches fell overnight, “boats are beginning to float off of docks” because of rising water levels on lakes, a Sheriff’s Office statement read.
“Anticipate water levels to continue rising over the next few days. Boats may need to be pulled from the lake as an option to keep them from floating away.”
For a time, Interstate 90 was shut down Thursday between exits 175 and 179 near Austin.
In Goodhue County, the north fork of the Zumbro River crested Thursday morning at a record level, the Weather Service said. In nearby Zumbrota, 3.7 inches of rain fell.
The Blue Earth County community of St. Clair put out a call Thursday morning for volunteers to fill sandbags for use against high water. In that same part of the state, many schools closed for the day.
At least two southern Minnesota school districts — Waseca and Austin — will remain closed Friday.
In western Wisconsin, high water and mud slides made many roads impassable.
Waves on the ice rink
While Waseca’s 24-hour rainfall total, at 7.64 inches, came in slightly under Fridley’s 7.65, it appeared to experience the most damage and disruption from the overnight rains.
Most of the localized flooding in the town of 9,400 occurred in low-lying areas as storm sewers backed up, according to City Manager Danny Lenz. In some areas with older pipes, storm sewers pushed sanitary sewers to capacity and sewage backed up into some homes.
In an effort to keep more homes from being damaged, some sewage was diverted into the stormwater system that drains into nearby Loon, Clear and Gaiter lakes, he said.
The town’s ice arena had more than a half-foot of water on top of the skating surface, while the building was surrounded by what looked more like a moat than a parking lot.
“It’s pretty safe to say hockey will not start on Saturday,” the arena’s Twitter account noted Thursday morning.
Inside the ice arena, building manager Kyle Collins and others pumped water out from the compressor room. He had arrived at the arena at 6 a.m. to begin adding the last layers of ice before hockey practice was to begin this weekend. Instead, he found the building flooded and 6 to 8 inches of water.
“We’re going to have to start over,” Collins said. “We’re probably a month away now from being able to skate here. There will be a lot of disappointed kids.”
Staff writer Karen Zamora contributed to this report.