More rain possible in deluged Midwest as flooding breaches levees in Iowa

Published 5:48 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Floodwaters breached levees in Iowa on Tuesday, creating dangerous conditions that prompted evacuations as the deluged Midwest faced another round of severe storms forecast for later in the day.

The sheriff’s office in Monona County, near the Nebraska border, said the Little Sioux River breached levees in several areas. In neighboring Woodbury County, the sheriff’s office posted drone video on Facebook showing the river overflowing the levee and flooding land in rural Smithland. No injuries were immediately reported.

Patrick Prorok, emergency management coordinator in Monona County, described waking people in Rodney, a town of about 45 people, to recommend evacuation about 4 a.m. Later Tuesday morning, the water hadn’t yet washed into the community.

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“People up the hill are saying it is coming our way,” Prorok said.

Flooding from major waterways like the Missouri and Mississippi rivers tends to get the lion’s share of attention for the amount of massive destruction it can wreak, such as washing away sections of major interstates. But communities across the rain-soaked Upper Plains and Midwest are also seeing their homes, buildings and bridges ruined by normally unassuming tributaries that have swollen into rushing rivers.

In North Sioux City, where the surging Big Sioux River flooded homes and destroyed a BNSF railroad bridge, local residents gawked Monday as the waters edged to the top of its protective levee.

“Normally, this river is barely a trickle,” 71-year-old Hank Howley said as she watched the Big Sioux’s waters gush over the broken and partially sunken rail bridge. “Really, you could just walk across it most days.”

Sioux City Fire Marshal Mark Aesoph said water stopped overtopping the Big Sioux River levee around midnight.

“We’re now in the process of getting that trapped water that’s inside the levee back over the levee and into the river,” he said.

Aesoph estimates hundreds of homes likely have some internal water damage.

But more severe weather was forecast to move in Tuesday, bringing large hail, damaging winds and even a brief tornado or two in parts of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska, according to the National Weather Service. Showers and storms were also possible in parts of South Dakota and Minnesota, the agency said.

In Michigan, more than 150,000 homes and businesses were without power Tuesday morning after severe thunderstorms barreled through, less than a week after storms left thousands in the dark for days in suburban Detroit.

The weather service also predicted more than two dozen points of major flooding in southern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota and northern Iowa, and flood warnings are expected to continue into the week.

President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for affected counties in Iowa on Monday, a move that paves the way for federal aid to be granted.

Late Monday in Correctionville, Iowa, the Little Sioux River rose to nearly 31 feet (9.5 meters), about 12 feet (3.7 meters) above flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. About a quarter to a third of residents had evacuated, Mayor Pro-tem Nathan Heilman said.

On Tuesday, Heilman said the water was slowly starting to recede, potentially aided by a levee breach downstream.

“That makes everything feel a little bit better,” he said. But there’s still a lot “we’re just kind of waiting to see.”

The flooding in the region, which affected areas from Omaha, Nebraska, to St. Paul Minnesota also came during a vast, persistent heat wave. Dangerous hot, muggy weather was expected again Tuesday around the Omaha area.

Storms last week dumped heavy rains, with as much as 18 inches (46 centimeters) falling south of Sioux Falls, the weather service said.

Places that didn’t get as much rain had to contend with the extra water moving downstream. Many streams, especially with additional rainfall, may not crest until later this week as the floodwaters slowly drain down a web of rivers to the Missouri and Mississippi. The Missouri will crest at Omaha on Thursday, said Kevin Low, a weather service hydrologist.

The heavy rains were blamed in the deaths of at least two people. On Saturday, an Illinois man died while trying to drive around a barricade in Spencer, Iowa. The Little Sioux River swept his truck away, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office said. Officials recovered his body Monday. Another person died in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem said without providing details.

North of Des Moines, Iowa, the lake above the Saylorville Dam was absorbing river surge and expected to largely protect the metro area from flooding, according to the Polk County Emergency Management Agency. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projected Tuesday that water levels at Saylorville Lake will rise by more than 30 feet (9 meters) by the Fourth of July.

Further west along the Des Moines River, residents in several communities including Fort Dodge and Humboldt were placing sandbags in high heat and humidity to protect property and infrastructure.

Outside Mankato, Minnesota, the local sheriff’s office said Monday that there was a “partial failure” of the western support structure for the Rapidan Dam on the Blue Earth River after the dam became plugged with debris. Flowing water eroded the western bank, rushed around the dam and washed out an electrical substation, causing about 600 power outages.

Eric Weller, emergency management director for the Blue Earth County sheriff, said the bank would likely erode more, but he didn’t expect the concrete dam itself to fail. The two homes downstream were evacuated.

A 2019 Associated Press investigation into dams across the country found that the Rapidan Dam was in fair condition and there likely would be loss of property if it failed. A pair of 2021 studies said repairs would cost upward of $15 million and removal more than $80 million.