Rain, rain go away

After a rainy June, the last thing southwest Minnesota needed was more precipitation. But rain it did and the communities responded.

Photo by Jenny Kirk Two individuals walk across the flooded road leading to Keeley Island on Lake Shetek. The area recently trapped many homeowners on the island and also forced the evacuation of about 70 kids attending Bible camp there.


People affected by the recent record-breaking flash flooding in southwest Minnesota are down but not out. With the help of outstandingvolunteers and emergency personnel, they’ve shown how resilient they can be when faced with disaster.

“From a historical perspective, almost everybody you talked to said they’ve never seen it like this,” said Christy Riley, Murray County community relations coordinator.

Murray County was hit especially hard, not only because of the 7-10 inches of rain in a few hours on July 3, but also because June had already brought a large amount of rainfall.

“It’s been saturated all through June — it just kept raining,” Riley said. “And then with those heavy, big rains, it just put it over the top and couldn’t take it anymore.”

The limits will be tested again as more rain is forecasted in the near future. For many, it’s like having the song “Here We Go Again” stuck in their heads.

“Basically, southwest Minnesota is forecasted on Friday for 2-4 inches of rain,” Lyon County Emergency Manager Tammy VanOverbeke said Wednesday. “The state of Minnesota was leaning toward recovery, but this will put us back in operations mode because this is going to make the situation worse. It could be really nasty for a lot of people.”

In response to phone calls about returning sandbags, Murray County officials are advising people to hold onto them.

“We’re still gathering data and trying to assess the damage,” Riley said. “It’s going to take time. And they’re forecasting four days of rain in the next week. We’re telling people to keep their sandbags until this completely goes away.”

Riley said she didn’t know the exact number but estimates that close to 20,000 sandbags were filled recently by volunteers.

“It was an incredible volunteer-based effort — the county just helped get the word out,” she said. “Trevor Rosenbrook really led the charge. He started at Muecke RA Sand and Gravel just outside of town, but then expanded.”

Many cabins and homes were flooded in the Lake Shetek area. A massive number of basements in the area were also flooded.

“There’s still people who have two, three, four feet of water in their basement,” Riley said. “We had an inch of rain (Tuesday) and more rain is coming, so it’s going to take a lot of time to recover.”

The Murray County Recycling Center (1820 Erlandson Ave. in Slayton) was designated at the drop-off site for flood debris, starting this past week through Sept. 9.

“We set up a debris site at our recycling center, so people with wet basements or whatever can bring items in for free,” Riley said.

Flood debris will be accepted from six categories: demolition materials from building structures, garbage from flood damage, white goods or appliances, electronics, household hazard waste and mattresses. People are asked to have items separated prior to delivery and to make sure each load is properly secured. Hours are 8 a.m. To 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For questions, call Jon Bloemendaal at 507-836-1164.

While residents are impacted by the flooding in different ways, a lot of businesses have suffered as well.

“There’s been a loss of revenue for a lot of businesses,” Riley said. “It’s a recreational county, so there are Bible camps, restaurants and campgrounds and summer is their biggest time of the year. They’re really going to be impacted.”

With the flooding, people were asked to stay off the lakes.

“Many docks and boat lifts are out so far in the water — there’s no way to know how far they’re out there — so we don’t want people out there,” Riley said. “No water crafts are allowed because people could hit debris in the water. It’s just now safe.”

Riley said people in Currie ended up celebrating Independence Day on July 7 instead.

“The Fourth of July is Currie’s biggest event of the year and they ended up having to cancel,” she said. “All those folks said, ‘What are we going to do?’ So they ended up helping with the sandbags. They did have the fireworks then on July 7.”

Just getting around the area was a huge challenge. In the Walnut Grove area, it was reported that 24 culverts were washed completely away because of the flash flooding. In Tracy, only one of the four roads leading into town was open to traffic.

“Just about every township road in Lyon County is affected,” VanOverbeke said.

On its website, Murray County posts a map that updates road closings.

“We try to keep it updated as much as possible on what roads are open and what roads are closed,” Riley said. “Before this past weekend, you couldn’t cross the Des Moines River from Currie all the way down to the southern part of the county because township, county and state roads were all affected. Folks had to drive quite a ways to get around.”

County Road 38 leading into Currie opened on Wednesday for the first time in at least two weeks.

“There’s still water over the road, but they’ve opened up one lane,” Riley said. “It’s nice because it’s such a major road. It’ll be easier to get to the state park now.”

VanOverbeke said past flooding events have helped create better solutions for the future. Marshall had major flooding in 1993.

“We had three large events — on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the Fourth of July,” she said. It was always on the weekend and it was hard to get ahold of anyone. Most of the businesses were closed. It was much different than this flooding.”

VanOverbeke, who was in the same professional position, said she experienced sewage flooding into her basement back then.

“It was bad,” she said. “Thank God I wasn’t home very often. I was working a lot. But it was really morally depleting for the people. We’d cleaned up after the Mother’s Day event and then it happened again on Father’s Day. We picked ourselves up by the bootstraps and cleaned up again. We got things back in order and it happened again. It was tough.”

VanOverbeke said townships have improved the size of culverts and tons of other projects, including the flood retention ponds by Southwest Minnesota State University, were done after the flood of 1993.

“The infrastructure has been fixed and maintained so much better, because we had these past diasters,” she said. “But when you get an event like we had, it just overwhelms everything we have. We cannot build our infrastructure to handle a 500-year flood event. People don’t want to pay for that. So when it’s an unusual event happens, it’s not the government’s fault. It’s just the way it is.”

The one constant is that people in small towns seem to always pitch in and help their neighbors.

“There’s a lot of feel good stuff,” VanOverbeke said. “We’re still really good small town Minnesotans. We have church people and friends who come together. We’ve got that going on for us.”

One of the biggest challenges in Slayton right now is to pump water away from the gas station at the intersection of Highways 59 and 30.

“The main concern is the fuel because it’s so saturated there,” Riley said. “We need to make sure the integrity of the tanks are OK. The water just won’t drain.”

Reports recently came in that one individual required medical care from violent sickness that resulted in swimming in the floodwaters around Lake Elsie, near the gas station. So safety is always the No. 1 concern.

“There are so many people working, including the parks department, sheriff’s department, highway department and other people,” Riley said. “I can’t say enough about the volunteers. It’s been a great team effort by everyone.”