Dayton, Smith, Peterson to visit communities hit hard

After paddling through the swollen Lake Shetek waters to return a portion of the neighbor's deck that had floated away, Vahalla Island homeowners Diane and Rich Zanter head back home, floating to shore, which is well into their backyard.

After heavy rains and flooding on Tuesday, the water is starting to recede from some parts of southwest Minnesota. However, the cleanup is far from over.

Area officials said Thursday that work is still being done to assess the damage, contain lakes and rivers swollen by the rain, and repair infrastructure. Meanwhile, many area residents are cleaning up flooded basements and other damage to homes.

On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in a total of 36 Minnesota counties and the Red Lake Nation. The governor’s order covered flooding, wind and tornado damage done by severe storms going back to June 9. Among the counties included in the state of emergency are Lyon, Redwood, Renville, Murray, Cottonwood, Pipestone, Rock and Nobles Counties. Dayton, along with U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Collin Peterson, will visit communities including Slayton, Walnut Grove and Balaton today.

Lyon County had declared its own state of emergency on Tuesday. County Emergency Manager Tammy VanOverbeke said the disaster declaration has gone to the state. If it turns out the area received more than $7.5 million worth of flooding damage, it could become eligible for federal funding.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” VanOverbeke said. While Lyon County is still mainly in emergency response mode, she said, she has been receiving flood damage reports.

“This is going to be a prolonged event,” VanOverbeke said. Although the weather was more dry on Wednesday and Thursday, she said, “Water is starting to come up in southern parts of the county.”

Flood response was continuing in Tracy, where VanOverbeke said five homes were rendered uninhabitable. Area firefighters also gathered to help sandbag near Lake Yankton in Balaton Thursday morning.

Garvin Park was one of the areas reporting flood damage, VanOverbeke said. Lyon County Environmental Administrator Roger Schroeder said Garvin Park had been temporarily closed, “primarily for safety reasons.” There were people at the park who had to be evacuated during Tuesday’s rain event, Schroeder said, but they were later able to return for the campers they left behind.

The Cottonwood River runs through Garvin Park. While there have been incidents where the river has flooded in the past, Schroeder said this time was unusual.

“Usually when we see it flood, it’s after a spring melt,” he said.

Schroeder said park staff were working to remove logs and tree branches from culverts, and repairing ruts in park roads. He said the Garvin Park campgrounds were re-opening to the public on Thursday, but for now the trails are closed.

Repairing road washouts will be another big task for the county. Lyon County Highway Engineer Aaron VanMoer said several county roads were closed Tuesday and Wednesday due to flooding. Major washouts were reported on County Road 5 near Lynd, and on County Road 7 south of the intersection with Minnesota Highway 23. Those roads remain closed. VanMoer said he would be ordering materials to repair the roads and culverts as soon as possible.

“The rest (of the washouts) have been minor culverts, and there’s been a lot of gravel washing,” VanMoer said. Other county roads that have had trouble with flooding include Lyon County Road 9 and Lyon County Road 11 between Cottonwood and Tracy, and roads near Green Valley and Three-Mile Creek.

VanMoer said county workers have been repairing gravel roads — although some roads are still too wet to access — and hauling away trees and branches washed into the Redwood River in Russell and Camden State Park.

As of Thursday, most state highways in the area were open again. However, the Minnesota Department of Transportation reported that U.S. Highway 14 east of Lamberton was closed due to flooding, as was U.S. Highway 71 near Sanborn. A bridge on Highway 30 east of Currie has also been closed, due to concerns about the speed and force with which the Des Moines River is flowing.

The Redwood River in Russell peaked at a stage of 18.18 feet on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. By Thursday, the river was still in moderate flood stage, but had gone down a foot.

Downstream in Marshall, the Redwood River peaked at 17.41 feet on Tuesday. As of Thursday afternoon, the river had decreased to 16.27 feet.

“In general, the water has gone down significantly around town,” said Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson. Residential cleanups were ongoing, however. Olson said there were some areas of Marshall that had reported problems with sewer backups, like the neighborhood around South First Street.

Flooding on Tuesday created a sudden need for sump pumps, shop vacs, and other equipment, Marshall businesspeople said. Local businesses like Runnings, Ace Home and Hardware, and Patzer’s Hardware Hank all brought in shipments of supplies from warehouses and distribution centers to try and meet the demand.

In a weather emergency like Tuesday’s, “It’s all hands on board,” said Dennis Jensen at Runnings. “We talk about our business being very tied to weather events,” he said, and businesses like Runnings definitely wanted to make sure customers were taken care of.

Diane McCormick, operations manager at Ace Home and Hardware in Marshall, said an employee traveled to an Ace warehouse to pick up merchandise to restock the store during the weather event.

Area residents haven’t just been looking for sump pumps, hoses and vacuums, McCormick said. They were also looking for mops and squeegees, “Anything to get the water out.”

After the rain stopped, “We’re seeing more with dehumidifiers, and people trying to clean up their carpets,” said Chad Kerr, at Patzer’s.

VanOverbeke urged area residents to use caution when cleaning up after flooding in basements or homes. Residents should wear gloves to prevent exposure to contaminated water, and stay away if water is near sources of electricity.

VanOverbeke said residents also shouldn’t just throw out everything damaged by flooding. Household hazardous waste, and certain materials like sheetrock, need to be disposed of separately, she said.