Big Sioux River crests; Interstate 29 reopens
By DIRK LAMMERS
and DAVID PITT
the associated press | June 21,2014
National Guard soldiers and South Dakota Transportation workers begin dismantling a levee across Interstate 29 that blocked traffic between Iowa and South Dakota, Friday, in North Sioux City, S.D.
The National Weather Service says the Big Sioux River where Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota meet already crested at a level lower than expected.
NORTH SIOUX CITY, S.D. — A swollen river that threatened homes where Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota meet crested earlier and at a lower level than expected early Friday. Minnesota officials toured waterlogged areas of that state, saying the severity and breadth of flooding make a federal disaster request a near certainty.
The less-serious crest of the Big Sioux River prompted crews take down sandbags and other containers blocking a section of Interstate 29 that acted as a temporary levee to protect an at-risk South Dakota city.
The road, which Lt. Gov. Matt Michels said remained dry while closed, reopened Friday afternoon. But some buildings, farmland and roads remain flooded, Michels said.
“Do not drive on a road with water. It may not be there,” he said.
The National Weather Service had predicted earlier that the river would hit a record high around midday, but then said it crested at Sioux City, Iowa, around midnight a couple of feet below the previous record.
Days of thunderstorms upstream swelled the 420-mile-long river and threatened homes and businesses in the three surrounding states, including up to 400 in a neighborhood of North Sioux City, South Dakota.
Craig Dam, 48, who owns Dam Auto Sales in Sioux City, Iowa, was relieved the water had started to drop. Dam spent part of Friday removing a 3-foot-high row of sandbags from the front and side of his house that friends, family, neighbors and students from a nearby high school put up on Thursday.
“People just came out to help,” he said.
Had the river overtaken the interstate, the plan was for the water to flow down his street and empty into an empty lot.
The change in the crest was due to a large amount of water released Tuesday night when a levee failed upstream at Akron, Iowa, said Mike Gillispie, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.
“Enough water went through the levee failure out into agricultural land there that it lowered the amount of water coming through at peak crest at Sioux City,” he said.
The river had been expected to crest at Sioux City about a foot above the 108.3-foot record set in 1969. Instead, it peaked at 105.6 feet and began dropping.
As a result, the river in the Sioux City area will stay at a higher level longer than previously predicted, Gillispie said. He expects it to stay above the 99-foot flood stage, the level at which farmland around Sioux City is underwater, into Sunday or Monday.
He said as long as the area doesn’t get heavy rain over the next few days, the water should fall back below flood levels. While there is potential for scattered thunderstorms, he doesn’t anticipate widespread rain.
In Minnesota, heavy rains over several days left farm fields under water and roads washed out. Dams have failed and water has infiltrated homes. Four state parks have been fully or partially closed because of high water.
“The damage is really unprecedented and very widespread,” Gov. Mark Dayton said.
In Minneapolis, a large section of mud gave way on a cliff near the Mississippi River. The slide occurred not far from a hospital near the University of Minnesota’s campus. Minneapolis Assistant Fire Chief Charles Brynteson said the hospital building is set on bedrock and is sound. Two motorists accelerated to safety as the mud and debris were falling.
“They very easily could have been trapped,” he said. “It was close.”
Downstream, the Omaha Public Power District said it will reduce power as it prepares for rising water on the Missouri River. The district’s Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant sits about 20 miles north of Omaha, and was surrounded by water during flooding three years ago.