A motorist who drove around a barricade and into rushing floodwaters touched off a lifesaving rescue Thursday in western Minnesota.
Deputies from the Lac qui Parle County Sheriff's Office donned cold-water rescue suits and used an inflatable raft to retrieve the female driver and her male passenger after their vehicle was swept off a country road and pushed into a farm field, said Sheriff Allen Anderson.
"They lived," Anderson said. Asked if the motorists' lives were in danger, he said, "Most definitely."
The driver, who was cited, told authorities that she saw the barricade blocking County Road 55 about a half-mile north of Hwy. 212 in Garfield Township but went around it because there was not a sign that said "Road Closed," Anderson said.
It is illegal in Minnesota to drive around barricades or signs indicating a road is closed. Violators can face a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail.
Rushing water from the west fork of the Lac qui Parle River swept the SUV about 30 feet off the road. When deputies arrived just before 4 p.m., the woman was sitting on the door and the man was standing on the hood, Anderson said.
As the water continued to rise and overtake the SUV, Sgts. Cole Weick and Brian Benck jumped in the frigid water and made their way to the vehicle.
"The biggest fear was how deep that water was going to get and if it was going to push the truck further out," Anderson said. "If they [the man and the woman] had fallen, they could have been swept into the river. That would have been bad."
With help from the Madison Fire Department and Madison Ambulance, the deputies pulled the raft to the vehicle and within 30 minutes floated the motorists to safety. The Sheriff's Office got the raft three years ago through a federal grant, but Thursday was the first time the department has had to use it.
"We've trained with it. Now we know how to use it," Anderson said.
Anderson said the incident serves as a good reminder to motorists not to drive through water flowing over a roadway.
This week, the Minnesota Department of Transportation released a video showing the power of a swift current. The agency used a drone to fly over a half-mile segment of flooded Hwy. 93 near Le Sueur. With the video, the agency warned motorists not to drive into flooded areas.
"Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and possible stalling," MnDOT said in its warning. "A foot of water will float many vehicles. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including sport-utility vehicles and pickups."