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Homes are partially submerged by floodwaters on June 24 in Waterville, Minnesota. Credit: Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

Heavy rainfall in upper Midwest causes evacuations, bridge collapses, potential dam failure

By Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer

The governors of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota have all issued emergency declarations as heavy rains that began late last week flooded rivers throughout the region.

As some communities started cleanup, eyes remained on the Rapidan Dam south of Mankato, Minnesota. Rushing waters had gouged out a new channel around the dam on Monday, June 24, leading to fears of an imminent breach. 

Quick flowing water erodes the earth around the Rapidan Dam on June 24 in Mankato, Minnesota. Water has significantly cut around the west side of the dam, which is 12 miles southwest of Mankato. Debris could endanger residents downstream. Credit: Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune 

As of Tuesday morning, June 25, the 114-year-old dam remained intact, but the Blue Earth River continued to flood and put pressure on the structure.  

Flood warnings remain in place Tuesday and areas south of those already hit are expected to see major rivers such as the Missouri River cresting through at least July 1.

A swath of counties in northwest Iowa, southwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota saw rainfall Thursday to Saturday that ranged anywhere from 5 to 8 inches in most areas and as much as 15 inches in some spots, according to the National Weather Service.

“An area from about Mitchell, South Dakota to Albert Lea, Minnesota may have got the worst of the flooding, but it is more extensive than that,” said DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick. 

He explained that much of the area was already saturated from rain early in the summer, making them more likely to flood. “Heavy rain has been a large nuisance and damaging factor for the northwestern Corn Belt for much of the last couple of months,” Baranick said.

And he said more rain is coming.

State disasters declared

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds requested an expedited presidential disaster declaration that would allow access to programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“While we’re still very early in the response, the projected damage is staggering,” Reynolds said. “It is estimated that at least 1,900 properties are impacted and hundreds have been destroyed.”

Homes are partially submerged by floodwaters on June 24 in Waterville, Minnesota. Credit: Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

Some highways were closed due to flooding.The town of Spencer, Iowa, with more than 11,400 people, faced catastrophic flooding over the weekend. Evacuations were called in Rock Valley, Iowa. 

Iowa officials noted the floodwater from rivers such as the Big and Little Sioux rivers is flowing into the Missouri River and could cause downstream flooding.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz had a request much like Reynolds’, calling in the Minnesota National Guard to deploy to Waterville, Minnesota, on Sunday morning to cope with flooding on the Cannon River.

“Flooding has left entire communities under feet of water, causing severe damage to property and numerous road closures,” Walz said in a news release.

The Star Tribune reported Windom, Minnesota, would see a record flood level for the Des Moines River.

A structure in Waterville, Minnesota is partially submerged by flooding on June 24. Credit: Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

Gov. Kristi Noem in South Dakota also reported at least one person had died in her state from severe weather. “I want to remind everybody to remember the power of water and the flow of water, and to stay away from flooded areas,” Noem said Sunday in a news conference.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen ordered National Guard helicopters to help Iowa with rescues.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday, June 24, forecast floods throughout the lower Missouri River basin. The Corps is monitoring levees and handing out sandbags. 

 In Omaha, Nebraska, the National Weather Service predicts the Missouri River will rise 12 feet over the next week to a forecast of a 35.3-foot crest, which would compare to flood levels in 2019.

“We do expect flooding all the way down through Hermann, Missouri,” said Kevin Low with the National Weather Service. He added flooding on the river below St. Joseph, Missouri, is expected to be minor. 

A flood cornfield near Wells, Minnesota, on June 22. Credit: Christopher Vondracek, Star Tribune

Railroad impacts

Two major railroads in the region were seeing bridge closures and track damage in the Iowa-Minnesota-South Dakota region. BNSF lost a bridge over the Big Sioux River between Iowa and South Dakota.

“That is the main bridge going into Iowa that a lot of commodities and different materials move on throughout the state,” said Noem said in a news conference Monday. “That’ll impact us for many, many months to come.”

Kendall Sloan, a spokesman for BNSF, said the railroad had been monitoring the Big Sioux River before the bridge was destroyed. “All trains are being rerouted via Creston, Iowa. We will continue to monitor and inspect conditions in the area and across our network and execute recovery operations as needed.”

Robynn Tysver, a spokeswoman for Union Pacific, said rail crews are repairing tracks damaged by heavy rains and flooding this past weekend in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota. Several lines were closed due to flooding. 

Crops inundated 

It may be too early to determine crop damage, but most of the Missouri River bottom fields were already in standing water before this past deluge.

Kelly Nieuwenhuis, who farms near Primghar, Iowa, posted videos and photos on social platform X, formerly known as Twitter, reporting inches of rain that had flooded his fields. “I think we’re at a new all-time rainfall amounts for a single spring in NW Iowa!!! It’s a mess,” he wrote.

Nieuwenhuis said 2024 brought the most rain his farm had seen, though there was flooding in 2018 and 2019. He said he expects tiling he had installed would help, but added, “We won’t have a large number of acres affected, but many aren’t as fortunate. I’ve got water sitting in areas and if it doesn’t go away soon those crops will die.”
This story is a product of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, an independent reporting network based at the University of Missouri in partnership with Report for America, with major funding from the Walton Family Foundation. Republish stories like this one for free.

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