Crews in southern Minnesota used pumps and backhoes Sunday to battle flooding caused by melting snow and ice chunks that choked creeks, sending water spilling onto nearby land.
In Jordan, which has been fighting the ice jams on Sand Creek, workers cleared one blockage midday Sunday and watched as water levels dropped nearly 3 feet in an hour and 15 minutes, said Police Chief Brett Empey.
But then another dam formed — this time on the north side of the Valley Green mobile home park. Last week, about 300 households voluntarily evacuated that neighborhood. About 13 residents remained at the Red Cross shelter Sunday.
As of Sunday evening, crews were clearing the ice chunks with backhoes so the water could flow.
“We’re not talking one piece of frozen ice,” Empey said. “We’re taking hundreds of thousands if not millions of pieces of frozen ice that are all crushed and slammed together and not moving at all. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
In other parts of the Midwest, surging waters overwhelmed rivers and forced residents from their homes in Iowa and Nebraska.
Fueled by a powerful winter storm, the water overwhelmed infrastructure, threatened a nuclear power plant and cut off access to some towns and cities. In Nebraska, which has seen some of the most significant damage, Gov. Pete Ricketts said the impact of the “devastating flooding … could last for quite some time.”
On Sunday, Nebraska officials confirmed two flood-related deaths and said another two men have been missing for days.
News of the fatalities came as residents in neighboring Iowa were driven from their homes as the Missouri River breached and broke levees. In the southwest corner of the state, the river rose to just over 30 feet, well beyond the previous record.
“It’s flowing fast and it’s open country — there’s nothing there to slow it down,” said Mike Crecelius, director of emergency management in Fremont County, Iowa.
The National Weather Service (NWS) warned that parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota — as well as Nebraska and Iowa — could still face flooding this week.
So far in Minnesota, damage was limited. Water covered a street near the Cottonwood River in New Ulm. Water flowed over Hwy. 4 in southwestern Minnesota, causing its closure Sunday. Water pooled at Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings.
Answering a call from the vineyard on Facebook, friends and customers helped owner Nan Bailly move hundreds of bottles of wine above ground. A neighbor used a Bobcat to form a 6-foot-high berm in the driveway. And Bailly pumped water from the cellar.
“Fortunately I’m a winery; I’ve got pumps,” Nan Bailly said by phone Sunday. “I can pump 18 inches out of my wine cellar. But I can’t pump a 20-acre lake.”
Communities across the state have been keeping a close eye on the weather, hoping for dry days and below-freezing temperatures at night — vs. a fast melt that would make flooding more likely. Freezing temperatures overnight Saturday helped.
The NWS predicted a warmer, dry week. Highs are forecast to be in the 40s Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before Friday’s relatively balmy 52, with light winds. No precipitation is expected.
But the warm temperatures could cause more potential for ice jams, said Lisa Schmit, meteorologist at the NWS in Chanhassen.
On Sunday, folks in her office were eyeing an ice jam on the Zumbro River near Pine Island, knowing that if it were to break free, the sudden surge of water could cause trouble. The NWS issued a flood watch Sunday for that area, noting that “minor flooding is possible if the ice jam upstream breaks free.” The service issued a similar watch for Berne, where authorities had spotted an ice jam nearby.
The NWS also continued flood warnings for a handful of rivers across the state, including Sand Creek in Jordan, Redwood River near Redwood Falls and the Cottonwood River at a pair of points in Brown County.
The New Ulm Police Department posted “road closed” signs on a flooded Cottonwood Street, where waters quickly rose overnight. That road frequently floods in spring and fall, Sgt. Jay Backer said by phone. “That is our frequent flier.”
At his farm 2 miles northwest of Montgomery, Minn., Bill Rynda saw water pooling across the landscape.
“The farm field is still holding so much water,” he said Sunday. “Jeez, this is not going to go away.”
Staff writer Paul Walsh and the Associated Press contributed to this report.