‘Minnesotans are resilient’: Flooding assessments continue; Walz visits flood-damaged Rapidan Dam site

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, July 3, 2024

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By Hannah Yang, Minnesota Public Radio News

Gov. Tim Walz visited the site of the Rapidan Dam and updated residents on flooding relief as well as conditions of the County Road 9 bridge after suffering damages from the raging floodwaters.

Walz shared his support for residents in the county and for the Hruska Family who lost their home and the Rapidan Dam Store to the Blue Earth River. The governor was a former teacher in the Mankato school district and recounted the strong community ties Rapidan has.

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“The community feels the loss because this family built something here,” Walz said. “Communities are lucky if they have a place like this.

Blue Earth County Commissioner Kevin Papp said the Rapidan community mourned the loss of the Rapidan Dam Store, along with the path of destruction the raging river left in its wake.

“As a child, as parents with kids, as grandparents with grandchildren … this area, the Dam Store, the burgers and malts, the pies and the walkout to the dam provided many special memories, not only for our family, but many others,” Papp said.

“Not only from this community in this county, but from all over the state and well beyond. Seeing this today puts a hole in many of our hearts. Our thoughts and prayers are to the Hruska family through this difficult and overwhelming time.”

A man in a blue hat and jacket looks on

Gov. Tim Walz visits the damaged site of the Rapidan Dam.
Hannah Yang | MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz previously shared that 22 counties were approved for a federal disaster declaration by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because of severe flooding. Those listed may be able to get reimbursed for debris removal, emergency protective measures and repair or replace damaged structures.

When aid arrives, 75 percent of eligible damages will be covered by federal dollars and the state picks up the remaining 25 percent, pulling from the state disaster assistance account that Walz said has about $26.4 million. Because of the last legislative session, it will replenish in August with another $50 million that can be used without a federal declaration for counties or townships that didn’t reach the threshold.

“I think one thing Minnesota should be reassured about … we will rebuild, the cost will be shared by all of us. So, the burden will not fall on these county commissioners,” Walz said. “Just deep gratitude to all the folks who responded to this. A thankfulness that we haven’t had any fatalities.”

People look at an eroded riverbank

Jenny Barnes, co-owner of the Rapidan Dam Store, and her father Jim Hruska, took in the sight of the Rapidan Dam and the eroded riverbank of the Blue Earth River.
Hannah Yang | MPR News

Flooding assessments are ongoing. Commissioner of Public Safety Bob Jacobson emphasized that even if a county that was affected by flooding wasn’t named on the federal disaster declaration, it’s likely they’ll be added later once floodwaters recede and agencies can accurately assess the damage.

“We will have the ability to recover from this,” Jacobson said. “Minnesotans are resilient. This community is resilient. The folks that I’ve met here are resilient. I am terribly impressed with this community and how they’ve come together and will continue to do so.”

County Road 9 Bridge

There are concerns about the stability of the 40-year-old County Road 9 bridge, which is still closed from when the Rapidan Dam began to overtop. Public Works Director Ryan Thilges said the bridge piers were constructed on top of sandstone bedrock and the piling wasn’t driven down into the bedrock, rather sitting on top of it.

“All of the lateral stability for the piling was achieved through the sediment that was in place that had been impounded in the river basin over the life of the dam,” Thilges said. “So, as we’re seeing dramatic levels of river head cutting as a river is lowering itself down to washing away tremendous amounts of sediment. We’re losing stability.”

A green sign that reads blue earth river

What was once the site of the Rapidan Dam Store and the Hruska Family Home is now gone as the flooding of the Blue Earth River changed the riverbed dramatically, with the Rapidan Dam still standing.
Hannah Yang | MPR News

Blue Earth County attempted to stabilize several piers of the bridge. While public works continues to communicate with the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers and MnDOT, they’re concerned about the potential of partial or full failure of the bridge from the amount of damage the bridge piers suffered.

‘We got a long ways to go’

While revisiting the Blue Earth River, the Hruska Family also came to speak with Gov. Tim Walz. Jim Hruska originally bought the Rapidan Dam Store in 1972, and his children David Hruska and Jenny Barnes ran it as co-owners.

They took in the sight of the widened riverbank, as well as the empty site of where their family store and home used to be before the house fell into the river. Their business was demolished by the county due to unsafe erosive conditions.

The Rapidan Dam Store vowed to reopen sometime in the future. David Hruska said he didn’t watch the videos circulating on social media of their family home collapsing into the river, not wanting to see it getting destroyed. However, the outpouring love and support from those the family served over the decades left him speechless.

A man in a blue tee shirt looks to the right

David Hruska, co-owner of the Rapidan Dam Store, shares his thanks with the community.
Hannah Yang | MPR News

Currently, the Hruska Family is taking time to rest and hope to rebuild their lives. They continue to thank the community for supporting them through the uncertainty.

“That’s what’s getting us through it,” David said. “That continued support is going to help us in the long run and we still need it. We got a long ways to go.”