After weeks of rain, officials in SW Minnesota look to rebuild

A worker from Northwest Gas inspects gas lines
A worker from Northwest Gas inspects gas lines caught in the flooding of the swollen Des Moines River, Friday, July 6, 2018, in Currie, Minn.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

Local governments in flood-plagued southwest Minnesota are telling state and federal officials they need help to recover from as much as 20 inches of rain that pelted the region over the last two weeks.

Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, Rep. Collin Peterson and other state and federal officials got a first-hand look Friday at the damage the downpours caused.

The first stop for the group was Slayton in Murray County, where they toured the surrounding countryside; viewing washed out roads, flooded homes and inundated farm fields. The storm clouds that had shadowed the region gave way to blue sky for the officials. Dayton said the state is ready to do what it can to help residents rebuild.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton meets with Murray County officials
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton meets with Murray County officials in Slayton, Minn., the first of three stops Friday, July 6, 2018.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

"It's a catastrophe and we just pray for more dry, sunny, weather like this to bring the water levels down," said Dayton. "Because that's going to be essential before a lot of this rehab work can be done."

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Lake Sarah Township supervisor Vern Carlson pointed to washed out roads as the main repair issue for the township just north of Slayton, where an estimated nine inches of rain fell on Monday and Tuesday. Carlson said just about every township road was damaged by the surging water. Some of the storm caused gullies in roads are deep and wide — one in particular sticks in his mind.

"It's mind-boggling," said Carlson. "The washout is so big you could almost set a semi-tractor down it."

A rough estimate of the road damage in Lake Sarah Township is around $120,000. That's more than the township's annual budget of just under $100,000.

Another specific area of concern for Murray County is Lake Shetek, a popular summer recreation area. A road to Valhalla Island in the lake is under water, isolating more than a hundred homes on the island. The high water has reached many of those homes, and Murray County emergency management director Heath Landsman said the amount of damage to the structures won't be known until the water recedes.

Flooding inundates businesses
Flooding inundates businesses Friday, July 6, 2018, in Slayton, Minn.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

"Some are really bad, some got a little bit of water," said Landsman. "A lot of those homes I don't know have basements. Some are vacation homes, some are permanent homes."

He said this week's storm was the third heavy rain event the area has experienced since late June. He estimated that as much as twenty inches of rain have fallen in that time. But residents, flood victims and local officials are committed to repairing the damage.

"Our goal in any disaster is to get as quickly as you can from the response phase to recovery," said Landsman. "So, the biggest thing we want to do is do everything that we can to try to get everyone's lives back to normal as fast as we can."

Local officials will be assessing how much damage the storms caused to homes, roads, bridges and farm fields over the next couple of weeks. They'll also estimate just how many dollars it will take to repair that damage.

"It's not going to happen overnight, it's going to be a tough, tough, period of time," said Dayton. "But we'll get through it together."