Austin braces for floods

Published 9:27 am Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sand and sandbags were dropped off next to Jerry’s Other Place Wednesday morning as the Cedar River rises due to rain received in the overnight hours. -- Eric Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

AUSTIN — Austin’s rivers shot up again Tuesday night after the area received heavy rain and sleet, which put several areas in Austin into a flood warning Wednesday morning.

A gauge at the Sewage Treatment Plant shows the Cedar River’s depth at 14.1 feet, about a foot shy of flood stage. However, forecasts show the river creeping up to 15.5 feet, just over flood stage. Turtle Creek has already passed its flood stage by more than a foot and peaked at 11.76 feet at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. It was at 10.34 feet this morning.

People in Austin have been scrambling to buy sump pumps to keep basements dry since last night.

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“They’ve been asking all day and yesterday,” Eldor Harley of Walmart’s hardware department said. However, Harley said Walmart is currently sold out of pumps.

Ace Hardware still has a few pumps on hand, but it has also had many inquiries, according to Kerri Ellegard.

“We’ve been learning as time goes on, the 100-year floods never seem to end,” she said.

For that reason, Ace has stocked up and has more units coming in Wednesday.

However, the National Weather Service and others predict the water to subside late Thursday.

“It does look like the significant rainfall is not going to continue, and the cold weather has some benefits to us,” said Jon Erichson, city engineer.

According to Police Chief Brian Krueger, officers will warn homeowners near the river now that a flood warning is in effect. Although the National Weather Service shows high water near moderate flood stage for the Turtle, Krueger and the police department follow their own gauges to issue warnings.

“With our flood history, we prefer the visual gauge,” he said. “That’s the gauge we’ve been using for 30-plus years.”

Road blocks and barricades have been moved to locations where water may creep over the road so they can quickly be put into place, Erichson added. “We’re always concerned; it’s just something that we continue to monitor and act accordingly.”

If water actually stays below 15 feet, Krueger thinks effects will not be too significant. He said Austin’s acquisition of properties for flood mitigation will play a part in that.

“It’s really cut down on the amount of property damage,” he said.