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Dam failures, National Guard deployments follow weekend flooding across Minnesota

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(The Center Square) – Flooding across Minnesota this weekend has led to Gov. Tim Walz calling in the National Guard.

While the torrential rain across southern Minnesota from last week has largely stopped, the fallout in small communities like Fairmont, Bricelyn and Albert Lea will have lasting effects. The governor declared a peacetime emergency on Saturday, and called in the National Guard to Waterville on Sunday, where the Cannon River’s flood levels caused numerous residents to evacuate.

Early Monday morning, the Rapidan Dam along the Blue Earth River showed signs of failure from thousands of pounds of debris piling against the concrete wall. Le Sueur County residents have been urged to evacuate, and a flash flood warning has been issued until 4:30 p.m. CST. The county was particularly hit by the storms this past week, with 14-18 inches of rainfall.

“I know the structural integrity of the dam has been a question for a long time,” Walz said. “The removal of the dam has been a question that’s been up there.”

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and Tina Smith, D-MN, toured the damage in Carver, Waterville and Northfield on Sunday.

“You can see the sump pumps just gushing water out of people’s basements,” Smith said. “And it’s really hard to see, just to imagine what that’s like just to have your whole house become unusable because of the water.”

Volunteers in Waterville have filled more than 70,000 sandbags over the past few days, but local law enforcement says more help is needed. According to police chief John Manning, he has seen volunteers from as far as Arizona and California arrive to help.

The mayor of Carver, Courtney Johnson, said water levels are currently at 28 feet but could rise as high as 34 feet over the next few days. While financial recovery estimates will take weeks to determine, Johnson is guessing her community’s biggest need is a $13 million levee, which needs restoration from the 1960s.

As residents wait for further evacuation notices, Rice County director of emergency management Joseph Johnson urges his neighbors to be wise.

“Turn around, don’t drown,” Johnson said. “You don’t know what’s happened over the last 24 hours on that road. It could be washed out. It takes about 12 inches of water to wash a vehicle away and about 6 inches to sweep you off your feet. The water is moving right now, it is extremely dangerous right now to be out in the flood water.”

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