The Heat Is Online

Minnesota, Dakotas Brace for Repeat of 1997 Floods

Spring Floods Submerge Upper Midwest

WASHINGTON, DC, (ENS) April 20, 2001 - Spring flooding across the Midwest that has driven families from their homes in four states is not going to subside soon, according to the National Weather Service. The floods are blamed on snow melt combined with heavy spring rains.

Much of the Upper Mississippi River is closed to navigation. Flood warnings are in effect along the Mississippi from Aitken, Minnesota to Chester, Illinois. Major flooding is occurring along parts of the upper Mississippi, with major flooding expected downstream to Burlington, Iowa. Near Record flooding is expected at Quad Cities, Iowa by the middle of next week.

The James River in South Dakota also continues to have major flooding, with levels not expected to drop very much for several weeks, government weather forecasters say. Other rivers in Minnesota and Wisconsin have been falling, with some below flood stage, but expected rain could drive them higher.

President George W. Bush, in Canada for the Summit of the Americas, said he is monitoring the situation from Quebec City. "I know that all Americans share my concern for the displaced families and residents of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Yesterday, the Mississippi River engulfed homes and businesses. Even more flooding is predicted in the upcoming days," the President said.

He said that Joe Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and his staff, "are working closely with State and local officials throughout the impacted and threatened areas to closely track the flooding and any further damage."

This is Allbaugh's first trip to the Midwest as FEMA director. He previously served as chief of staff to then Governor George W. Bush of Texas, where he worked with FEMA on nine presidential disaster declarations.

Allbaugh's tour of the flood affected areas has so far taken him to Devil's Lake and to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and to East Grand Forks and other Minnesota communities that straddle the Red River.

The Red River has overflowed its banks in 1997, swamping neighborhoods and causing massive destruction. Preventive work performed following the 1997 floods is expected to help protect those cities from this spring's flood event.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working around the clock to prevent flooding across the Upper Midwest, primarily on the Red, Minnesota, and Upper Mississippi Rivers and their principal tributaries.

The Corps St. Paul District is constructing emergency levees in Wahpeton, Fargo, Grand Falls and Pembina, North Dakota, and in Breckenridge, Minnesota. These measures have so far protected those communities by extending the levees to a height two feet beyond forecasted river crests.

About 125 Corps personnel are on location supporting the flood fight. The agency is working with the states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, and the National Guard, several municipalities and other federal agencies to minimize the flooding with three million sandbags, 60 pumps, and more than 200 rolls of plastic sheeting provided to affected communities for flood fighting.

Mississippi River pushing record levels, April 17, 2001

The still rising Mississippi River may reach its highest flood crest on record, forecasters now say.

The outlook has residents in three states busy sandbagging to keep floodwaters at bay.

"There's no question this is a catastrophe. This is nuts," said Steve Prosser, of Fountain City, Wis., located 30 miles upriver from LaCrosse. "Physically you are exhausted. Mentally you are exhausted."

Evacuations are expected throughout the day in LaCrosse, where emergency services coordinator Al Spaulding is concerned about what is to come even after the river crest this week. He says if the river stays at its peak too long, the levees will get saturated and could collapse.

In preparation for the immediate threat, Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum declared a state of emergency for nine counties south of where the Mississippi forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. He says the state needs to do what it can to protect residents from potential disaster.

Volunteers stepped in to help the National Guard in Minnesota on Monday. More than 350 Guardsmen are on active duty in Minnesota because of flooding across the state. Most are deployed on the Red and Minnesota rivers, leaving few resources along the Mississippi River.

"The National Guard is used to riding to the rescue. This is a unique experience where the volunteers have saved our facility [from flood waters] and saved the National Guard," said Col. Steven DeMars, director of the aviation for the Minnesota National Guard.

Also in Minnesota, a 19-year-old man is missing following an accident on a water-covered road. He and his brother bypassed warning signs and were swept away when they drove onto the flooded road southwest of Minneapolis. The man's brother was rescued on Sunday.

A 400-mile stretch of the Mississippi River is closed to boat traffic. Barges and boats are prohibited on the high waters between Minneapolis and Iowa.

A state of emergency is in effect in 10 riverside Iowa counties. "This will put the state in a position to provide assistance to those communities that may be affected by flooding," said Gov. Tom Vilasack.

Residents of Davenport, Iowa shivered in a cold, blustery wind to build a protective sandbag wall around the city's downtown district. The Mississippi River is expected to crest there at 20 to 22 feet next week. That's nearly what the river measured in 1993, when it reached its highest point on record, 22.6 feet.

Near-record flooding is forecast for the Mississippi River in Quad Cities, according to the Quad Cities weather forecast office in Davenport.

Meantime, flooding has forced Amtrak customers to take buses between Chicago and Minneapolis, closed the downtown St. Paul, Minn., airport, and made numerous roads impassable throughout Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Residents prepare for flooding, April 11, 2001

Over the next week, river levels in the Dakotas and Minnesota are expected to top heights reached in 1997, when the waterways topped their banks, causing devastating widespread flooding. Meantime, emergency managers are waiting to see what will happen during this first true test of flood prevention systems put in place since the 1997 floods.

"Some of these communities are likely to match record flood levels reached in 1997, if they don't exceed those levels," said National Weather Service (NWS) central region Chief of Hydrologic Services Kenneth King. Record flooding is already occurring along the Red River at Wahpeton, N.D.

Fortunately, crews in Wahpeton completed construction of dikes built to protect the city against 22 feet of water. The Red River is set to crest there between 19 and 20 feet on Sunday.

That level is low compared to the 37 to 38-foot crest forecast for Fargo. The outlook takes into account rain expected to fall through Thursday morning.

The NWS predicts the Red River will crest between 48 and 50 feet at Grand Forks, N.D., and across the state line at East Grand Forks, Minn., in about a week. Dikes there are being raised as high as 52 feet. Some are among the new flood protection systems put in place since the 1997 floods.

Crews are reshaping levees in Breckenridge, Minn., to avoid rain puddles on top of the now flat tops. An inch-and-a-half of rain is expected there by Wednesday.

"At this point, the crest is supposed to be 19.5 feet. [We're] protected to 22. I'd say the city will stay dry. We're not going to let it get wet, but we are going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen. If it will happen, then we'll need to pull the trigger and get [residents out of here]," said Breckenridge Mayor Cliff Barth.

National Guard troops are now patrolling the levees to look for breeches.

Flooding already occurring in some areas closed two rural roads in Minnesota. Emergency officials said two others may be closed if flooding worsens.

Wisconsin authorities are closing the lift bridge connecting Stillwater, Minn., and St. Croix County at 8 p.m. local time. They say rising water on the St. Croix River is becoming a danger to motorists.

Also in Wisconsin, The Mississippi River is expected to reach flood stage at LaCrosse on Wednesday. Flood stage is 12 feet. The NWS expects the river to top 13 feet by Saturday and crest at the middle of next week, possibly as high as 15 feet.

And it's a flooding lake, rather than a river that prompted the evacuation of 30 Watertown, S.D., homes and two businesses. Waters from Lake Kampeska spilled into the buildings Monday, and city officials fear that rain forecast for the region will only make things worse.

While some crews try to hold back the lake, others are shoring up flood barriers on the Big Sioux River.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.