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More rain is possible in the deluged Midwest as flooding kills 2 and threatens a dam

Heavy rains cause high water levels at the Rapidan Dam near Mankato, Minn., on Monday, June 24, 2024. Officials say the dam is threatened with “imminent failure.”
Mark Vancleave
Heavy rains cause high water levels at the Rapidan Dam near Mankato, Minn., on Monday, June 24, 2024. Officials say the dam is threatened with “imminent failure.”

NORTH SIOUX CITY, S.D. — More storms are possible in parts of the deluged Midwest, where flooding after days of heavy rains has killed at least two people, sent a river surging around a dam and forced evacuations and rescues.

Severe storms were forecast for Tuesday afternoon and evening with 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 are also possible in parts of South Dakota and Minnesota, the agency said.

Flooding in those states has also come during a vast and stubborn heat wave. Some communities hit by flooding were under an excessive heat warning Monday with temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Dangerous hot, muggy weather was expected again Tuesday around the Omaha area.

More than 3 million people live in areas touched by flooding, from Omaha, Neb., to St. Paul, Minn. Storms dumped huge amounts of rain from Thursday through Saturday, with as much as 18 inches falling south of Sioux Falls, S.D., according to the National Weather Service.

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.

On Saturday, an Illinois man died while trying to drive around a barricade in Spencer, Iowa, Sioux City's KTIV-TV reported Monday. The Little Sioux River swept his truck away, the Clay County Sheriff's Office said. Officials recovered his body Monday.

At least one person died in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem said without providing details.

"I've never had to evacuate my house," Hank Howley, a 71-year-old North Sioux City, S.D., resident said as she joined others on a levee of the swollen Big Sioux River, where a railroad bridge collapsed a day earlier. She did not have to evacuate in recent days either, but said: "We're on the highest spot in town. But what good is that when the rest of the town is flooded? It makes me nervous."

The bridge connected North Sioux City, S.D., with Sioux City, Iowa, and fell into the Big Sioux River around 11 p.m. Sunday, officials said. Images on local media showed a large span of the steel bridge partially underwater as floodwaters rushed over it.

There were no reports of injuries from the collapse. The bridge's owner, BNSF Railway, had stopped operating it as a precaution during the flooding, spokesperson Kendall Sloan said. The railroad said the bridge was used by only a few trains per day and did not expect rerouting to have a significant impact.

The Big Sioux River stabilized Monday morning at around 45 feet, over 7 feet higher than the previous record, Sioux City Fire Marshal Mark Aesoph said.

In North Sioux City, the South Dakota Department of Transportation built a berm Sunday night across Interstate 29 to stem flooding, temporarily blocking the major route. In other areas where the interstate remained open, water crept toward the road. Howley, who has lived there for 33 years, said she has a growing concern over more frequent severe flooding around I-29.

Roads and bridges damaged and businesses destroyed

The flooding has damaged roads and bridges, closed or destroyed businesses, required hospitals and nursing homes to evacuate, and left cities without power or safe drinking water, the governors of Iowa and South Dakota said.

"I just keep thinking about all this stuff I've lost and maybe the little things I could recover that we put up high," said Aiden Engelkes in the northwestern Iowa community of Spencer, which imposed curfews during flooding that surpassed a record set in 1953.

Over the weekend, teams from Iowa's natural resources department evacuated families with children and a person using a wheelchair from flooded homes, director Kayla Lyon told reporters. Gov. Kim Reynolds said the department conducted 250 water rescues on Saturday.

"At one point we had 22 conservation officers doing water rescues, navigating some pretty nasty current," Lyon said.

Partial failure of Minnesota dam

Outside Mankato, Minn., the local sheriff's office said 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.

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 upwards of $15 million, and removal more than $80 million.

In Spencer, Engelkes still wasn't able Monday to get back into his apartment on the first floor of a building close to the Des Moines River, nor could he go to work at a flooded chicken hatchery.

He spent more than seven hours Saturday in a friend's fourth-floor apartment, waiting to be rescued by a boat, his Chevy SUV under roiling waters. Rescuers broke a window in a second-floor stairwell, and almost 70 people were taken away by boat in small groups.

Engelkes and his girlfriend left with a bag of clothes, three cats in a carrier, and a kitten his girlfriend carried in her shirt. Their apartment had about 4 feet of water. They're now staying with his mother on higher ground.

About 65 miles west of Spencer, in Rock Valley, Deb Kempema lost her home decor store, First Impressions, after a river levee broke.

It was "7,000 square feet of very pretty, pretty things. And it's all gone," she told KELO-TV.

President Joe Biden has been briefed by his homeland security team about the Iowa flooding, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency had personnel on the ground there, the White House said.

Copyright 2024 NPR

NPR News NPR News
The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]