Flood troubles across Minnesota follow mid-June deluge

  • Article by: CURT BROWN and ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: June 21, 2014 - 3:01 PM

Governor hints at special session of Legislature to allocate money for relief.

The rain stopped, but the scrambling only intensified Friday after a historic deluge that flood watchers warn will keep Minnesota rivers swollen for a week or more.

Gov. Mark Dayton hinted that he might need to call a special legislative session to allocate flood-relief dollars to nearly three dozen counties under a disaster declaration. Hospital officials hustled to move oxygen tanks away from a massive mudslide gash along the Mississippi River’s west bank in Minneapolis. Taste of Minnesota promoters began searching for a new home for the July 4th weekend festival because St. Paul’s Harriet Island will be too dangerous to access.

More National Guard troops were dispatched to levees stretching from the Rainy River near the Canadian border to Henderson 300 miles south along the Minnesota River. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it plans to pull all its gates from locks between Hastings and Guttenberg, Iowa, allowing the mighty Mississippi to flow naturally and ease flooding risks upstream.

“All that rain has to go somewhere and there are still a ton of smaller streams that haven’t crested feeding the main stem rivers,” said Craig Schmidt, hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. “Some fields are slowly drying out and smaller streams to the west are beginning to crest, but the Mississippi, Minnesota and Crow Wing rivers will continue to rise for a week at least.”

In St. Paul, for example, temporary flood walls were being deployed around the small airport on the city’s West Side because the Mississippi will likely climb seven more feet by the end of next week.

With nearly 11 inches of rain falling this month, it’s been the rainiest June since 1874 — and there are still 10 days to go. Since Jan. 1, a record-smashing 25.2 inches of precipitation have been recorded at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport — eclipsing the January-through-June mark of 21 inches set in 2001.

Hospital ‘on bedrock’

Near the University of Minnesota Medical Center’s West Bank campus, a mudslide took a big chomp out of the Mississippi’s steep bluff Thursday night.

“But we never had any danger or threat to our patients,” said Carolyn Wilson, the chief operating officer of Fairview Health Systems.

She said a team of geologists and engineers assessed the area and assured hospital and Minneapolis officials the area is safe.

“Our facilities are on bedrock,” she said.

Patient rooms are set back far from the bluff edge and only administrative offices and a service road sit near the slide area. Fire department officials said hospital oxygen tanks nearby were undamaged, but authorities released a plume that looked like smoke Friday in order to move the tanks.

“It looked pretty scary, but it was a controlled release of liquid oxygen,” Wilson said.

At another Twin Cities-area hospital, Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, ambulance access was reopened Friday morning after the nearby rain-choked Minnehaha Creek prompted concern.

‘A lot of hardship’

State lawmakers created a $3 million contingency fund this year to match federal funding for disasters, but Dayton fears it may not go far enough, so he might have to call a special legislative session.

“Given the extent of the damage I’ve seen so far, there’s a very good possibility we could exhaust that fund,” said Dayton, who joined U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, state Emergency Management Director Kris Eide and Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson on a visit with local leaders in Edgerton, Luverne and Montevideo on Friday in southwestern Minnesota.

Dayton noted the irony of surveying flood damage in an area he originally was scheduled to visit in support of a project to bring water from the Missouri River to the parched land.

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