Midwestern flooding collapses a bridge, forces evacuations and kills at least 1

Published 2:48 pm Monday, June 24, 2024

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SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Flooding in the Midwestern U.S. collapsed a railroad bridge and tested a dam Monday after days of heavy rains that have forced hundreds of people to evacuate or be rescued from rising waters.

The flooding brought additional misery to parts of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota during a vast and stubborn heat wave. In some communities hit by flooding, the temperature Monday afternoon approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius).

More than 3 million people live in areas touched by flooding, from Omaha, Nebraska, to St. Paul, Minnesota. More rain is forecast, and many streams may not crest until later this week as the floodwaters slowly drain down a web of rivers to the Missouri and Mississippi.

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The flooding has, over the course of days, damaged roads and bridges, shuttered 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. “And then I think about where my friends are, because their stuff is also gone.”

Outside Mankato, Minnesota, the local sheriff’s office said the Rapidan Dam on the Blue Earth River faced “imminent failure” after it became plugged with debris. But water is carving out land on its west side and relieving pressure, Blue Earth County Sheriff Jeff Wersal said, so “I don’t anticipate the dam just crumbling and breaking.”

Even if water does overtop the dam, the only two residences downstream have already voluntarily evacuated, Wersal said.

A railroad bridge connecting North Sioux City, South Dakota, with Sioux City, Iowa, 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. Trains are being rerouted.

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. Evacuations have begun for homes at low elevations, and more are expected as waters rise.

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

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 apartment on the fourth floor, waiting to be rescued by a boat, his 2013 Chevy SUV under roiling waters except for a bit of its antenna. Rescuers broke a window in a stairwell on the second floor, and almost 70 people crawled out, volunteers ferrying them away by boat in fours and fives.

Engelkes and his girlfriend left with a bag of clothes, three cats in a carrier, and a kitten his girlfriend carried in her shirt. They expect their apartment to be ruined by about 4 feet of water but hope to still reclaim electronics they placed higher. They’re now staying with his mother on higher ground.

About 65 miles (105 kilometers) west of Spencer, in Rock Valley, Deb Kempema lost her home decor store, First Impressions, after a river levee broke, forcing evacuations and destroying shops.

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

Despite the widespread flooding, power outages were minimal in the affected states Monday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.us. South of Rock Valley, water surrounded the power substation in Correctionville, causing an outage.

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.

Parts of Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa received eight times the average rainfall, said National Weather Service meteorologist Donna Dubberke.

A 2019 Associated Press investigation into dams across the country found that the Rapidan Dam was in fair condition and there likely would be the 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.