While lakes and rivers remained swollen Saturday, conditions continued to improve in several southwestern Minnesota communities flooded by heavy rainfall over the past week.

“We’re optimistic, because the sun is shining and it doesn’t look like we should be getting more rain for at least a week,” said Slayton Mayor Miron Carney, whose city endured a rainfall Tuesday double what it typically gets the entire month of July.

After an abnormally wet June, the past week’s precipitation was the breaking point for a number of areas across the state’s southwestern region, from Redwood Falls to the Iowa border. Floods closed roads, deluged farm fields and displaced some homeowners.

Gov. Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency Thursday, after 36 of the state’s 87 counties and one tribal nation reported damage from June and July storms. On Friday, he and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith visited communities to talk with residents and get a close-up look at affected areas. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar will visit Tracy, Windom and New Ulm on Sunday, accompanied on the first two stops by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.

In Currie, about 30 miles south of Marshall, Mayor Jeb Malone said local officials are asking for preliminary reports from residents to give to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will return to the region within two weeks to estimate damages.

The town of 200 people received 21 inches of rain in two weeks, and about 20 homes had sewage back up into their basements after the city’s system was overwhelmed.

“The damage is already done,” Malone said.

But by Saturday, the city was well on its way back to normal. With Hwy. 30 reopening Friday night, three of the four routes into Currie are now open, Malone said. The town’s July 4th festivities were to take place Saturday after being postponed due to the storms.

The Murray County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday that there was no more need to fill sandbags after volunteers worked through Friday filling and hauling them to protect areas around Lake Shetek. Many remained concerned about high water levels damaging property around the lake, especially with brisk winds in the forecast.

Heath Landsman, deputy sheriff and emergency management director for Murray County, has lived in the area his entire life. He said Saturday that this year’s floods are some of the worst he’s ever seen.

“The lake’s higher than anyone has ever seen it,” he said. “But barring any rain, things are going in the right direction.”

‘Well into recovery’

Now, the places of some of the most concern are cities such as Windom, which lies on the Des Moines River that connects to Lake Shetek.

“We’re looking at rises from the heavy rain that occurred last week to make their way downstream,” said Jacob Beitlich, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

The water levels of flooded rivers are gradually dropping, Beitlich said. The Cottonwood River was observed at an almost 20-foot flood stage in New Ulm on Friday morning, the second-highest it has ever been.

“The only time it was higher was 1965, and that was one of the most historic floods in the state of Minnesota,” Beitlich said. The river is predicted to return to regular levels by Wednesday.

The Minnesota River is also still spilling over its banks in Henderson and Jordan, and the Redwood River reached a record high level in Marshall, according to the National Weather Service.

Looking ahead, Beitlich said the forecast predicts thunderstorms across the northern part of the state on Saturday night, which could fade southward into central Minnesota and northern Wisconsin by Sunday afternoon or evening.

A flash-food watch was issued for Sunday night into Monday morning for portions of east central, north central and northeast Minnesota, the National Weather Service office in Duluth said. Included are areas of St. Louis County, as well as Crow Wing, Aitkin, Cook and Lake Counties. 

By Monday, the storms could make it to southern Minnesota, Beitlich said. “But they should be weakening as they grow throughout that time,” he added. “That is good news.”

In Slayton, people are simply hoping for the best, Carney said. After bagging and delivering sand alongside other volunteers Friday, he spent some time checking on his own home Saturday.

“We’re well into recovery here,” he said. “And we’re in this together as a community.”