Record-breaking deluge brings 35-county emergency declaration

Mudslide damage behind U of MN's medical campus
The damage from a mudslide behind University of Minnesota's Fairview Medical Center campus is documented in Minneapolis, Minn. Friday, June 20, 2014. The cliff collapsed in a mudslide after heavy rains Thursday, June 19, 2014.
Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

Wide bands of record-breaking rain all week have taken a toll across Minnesota, prompting Gov. Mark Dayton to declare a state of emergency in 35 counties.

In Minnesota history, the 25 inches of rain that has fallen through June 20 passes the previous record year of 2001 by over 4 inches. Nearly a year's worth of rain has fallen on the Twin Cities in the first six months of 2014, the National Weather Service said.

Around the state and in the Twin Cities, crews and volunteers are out sandbagging against rising lakes and creeks, roads are washed out, and there have been mudslides and some evacuations.

• More: Rain causes sewage to spill into lakes, rivers
• Road closures: MnDOT's updated list
• What's next? Check the forecast in your area
• Photos: Photos: Kayaker braves raging Minnehaha Falls
• More: Lawmakers seek federal disaster relief to cope with flood

A building on the University of Minnesota's Fairview Medical Center campus is perched above a large mudslide and the Mississippi River Thursday night.

The cliff there collapsed above the West River Parkway, on the west bank of the Mississippi, and into the river. The parkway is closed off from the Franklin Avenue Bridge to 4th Street.

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A statement from the Minneapolis Fire Department says two vehicles were driving on West River Parkway about the time of the slide but the people in them escaped "without harm." No one else was caught in the slide, the statement said.

Medical center spokesperson Jennifer Amundson said the slide occurred across the street from one of the hospital's office buildings. No patients or patient-care areas of the hospital were evacuated or affected by the slide, she said.

According to Minneapolis Police spokesman Scott Seroka, the part of the building that was initially a concern because it's closest to the mudslide actually sits on bedrock and shale, and the solid foundation makes it safe.

In Edina, Public Works Director Brian Olson said the city dealt with a sewer system at capacity, with more than 20 reports of backups.

The city considered asking the state permission to disperse sewage into Minnehaha Creek, but didn't end up needing to do that.

"There were times we were contemplating what alternatives we have. But we got through it. Our lift stations are at capacity, but they're keeping up. We're drawing down some of the wet wells. So we see light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

Matt Michel carries wet carpet.
Clearing a flooded basement in Rapidan, Minn.
Jackson Forderer/For MPR News

Olson said eight crews of city employees and volunteers spent the day filling sandbags. They distributed around 4,000 sandbags and have about 5,000 more in wait for those who need them.

In the west metro, washed-out roads and a damaged levee led the city of Carver Thursday morning to declare a state of emergency.

A landslide closed Minnesota Highway 13 between Interstate 35E and Cherokee Heights Boulevard in Mendota Heights, the Minnesota Department of Transportation reported at noon Thursday.

The Metropolitan Council said heavy rains are causing overflows and sewer system backups affecting parts of the Lake Minnetonka area and the Mississippi River in St. Paul.

In southern Scott County, where about 5 inches of rain fell on Thursday alone, roads were closed, houses were flooded, and about 25 people in the town of Blakeley were evacuated, said Emergency Management Director Chris Weldon.

Dennis Tweet fixes fences damaged by storms.
Dennis Tweet stands in 6 inches of water as he fixes fences damaged by flood waters on his farm near the town of Leota.
Mark Steil / MPR News

"All the county roads around Blakeley have sustained quite a bit of damage. Some of them are impassible. We were concerned about getting emergency crews in there if something happened," he said.

The tiny town in the Minnesota River valley, sits just south of a large construction project, which the county was concerned could cause a mudslide or major flooding.

In St. Paul, where the Mississippi River is forecast to climb to flood levels this weekend, the city has closed pathways close to the river and some boat launches. The city anticipates closing Harriet Island on Saturday.

Since the series of storms began Saturday, some farmers in the southwest have measured nearly a foot of rainfall.

U.S. Agriculture Department officials are out assessing the toll. They don't have a state-wide damage estimate yet, but farmers don't need officials to tell teem the storms have created a lot of extra work.

Gov. Mark Dayton, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and Rep. Tim Walz visited storm-drenched southwestern Minnesota Friday morning. They said they will be documenting the damage from farms to roads and begin applying for federal disaster relief funds.

The recent heavy rains have been a drought-buster, leaving Minnesota entirely drought-free for the first time in a long time.

Holding back the creek
A sandbag dike at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park.
Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

That may prove to be good news for farmers. It's also good news for some lake-front property owners.

"White Bear Lake is responding (to recent rain)," said Jim Stark, director of U.S. Geological Survey in Minnesota. "It's up a couple feet from its low. But these events that we have going on right now really are temporary with respect to our major groundwater systems. We'll continue to be concerned about sustainability in those aquifers on long term."

White Bear Lake is back up to 2008 levels, still several feet below the levels of a few years prior.

Caution urged around creeks, lakes

When Andrea Connett dropped in on her 89-year-old mother in St. Louis Park Thursday afternoon, she found a crew of volunteers sandbagging against rising water from Minnehaha Creek.

Minnehaha Falls kayaker
Professional kayaker Hunt Jennings goes over Minnehaha Falls Thursday.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

"I came with my boots today, ready to help my mom. But I wasn't expecting all this, but hey, this is amazing," she said. "I was raised in this house, yeah. Unfortunately we have a lot of water in the basement, but we'll take care of that."

Parks and trails surrounding Minnehaha Creek in Minneapolis are flooded, along with Cedar Avenue. Houses in St. Louis Park and Edina along the creek have been sandbagging.

In Minneapolis, Burroughs Elementary School and a handful of other sites, mostly near Minnehaha Creek, have called the city seeking sandbags.

Lake Minnetonka, the St. Croix River and Prior Lake, are among a number of bodies of water that have instituted no wake zones. The DNR is temporarily allowing local governments to extend no wake zones for up to 30 days, instead of just five.

With weekend temperatures expected to hit the mid-80s with sunshine, people may be tempted to get out and enjoy the lakes as they usually do in the summertime. But DNR Boat and Safety spokeswoman Kara Owens said the rains have cooled lakes and rivers, and swimmers need to be cautious.

"Right now the water temperatures in the Twin Cities are around 70 degrees," she said. "That's about 5 to 10 degrees cooler than normal. In northern Minnesota, the water temperature is even cooler." Water below 70 degrees drains heat from human bodies faster than it can be produced.

Owens also said the fast moving water can carry a lot of storm debris, and she advised wearing a lifejacket. But just staying off the water may be a better idea.

"With the fact that the waters are continuing the rise. It might be a good idea to hold off for a week and then go out and enjoy that paddling trip."

One paddler who wasn't waiting: professional Kayaker Hunt Jennings.

As photographers caught the action, he took his boat over the raging Minnehaha Falls Thursday evening, the same day Minnehaha Creek's water level reached an all-time record high.

Lake Minnetonka, Minnehaha's source, set a new record at 930.77 feet above sea level Thursday, the highest since record-keeping began in 1906, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District said.