Gov. Walz calls in National Guard as southern Minnesota hit with high water, evacuations

A group of people create bags full of sand.
Vounteers work to make sandbags to help keep water levels controlled around Waterville on Sunday. Waterville, a city of about 1,600 people in Le Sueur County, was hit especially hard with a recorded 6.38 inches of rain since Thursday.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Flooding in southern Minnesota has prompted Gov. Tim Walz to declare a peacetime emergency, as some residents have had to leave their homes.

The order late Saturday allows Walz to call up the Minnesota National Guard to help cities and counties affected by inundated infrastructure.

Walz says National Guard troops will help with everything from traffic control to pumping flood waters.

“That puts a lot of things into place,” Walz told MPR News. “And remember our National Guard are … folks that are working in the community. They have to then go into their units to start getting ready. And then we have to assess what the mission is so that will start to play out over the next few days you’ll start to see them arrive.”

Between Thursday and Friday, several cities in southern Minnesota received four or more inches of rain in less than 48 hours, including 5 inches of precipitation in Rochester and 8 inches in Mankato.

“All of that is on top of already saturated soils across most of eastern and southern Minnesota,” said Sven Sundgaard, MPR meteorologist. “We’re seeing double to quadruple normal rainfall for June.”

Waterville, a city of about 1,600 people in Le Sueur County, was hit especially hard. U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith toured flood damage there on Sunday, as well as in Carver and Northfield.

Three people stand outside with microphones nearby.
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (left), Waterville Mayor William Conlin, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar speak to press on Sunday, June 23, 2024, as Waterville deals with rising water levels and flooding.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Carver ‘is no stranger to floods’

On Sunday, Carver Mayor Courtney Johnson met up with Klobuchar and Smith to inspect flooding in the historic city nestled along the banks of the Minnesota River.

“Carver is no stranger to floods,” Johnson said. “I would bet that it’s probably no exaggeration to say that there's probably water in 90 percent of the basements in downtown right now.”

But that, the mayor said, is “relatively minor” flood damage so far.

Water levels are now at around 28 feet but are predicted to go up to 34 feet by next week, Johnson said.

Carver’s biggest need is an estimated $13 million to finish rehabilitating a levee downtown. The levee is over a mile long and dates back to the 1960s, when it was first built to protect the historic city from overflowing of the Minnesota River.

“We've got to look for the long haul. And that's why we put a federal request in to upgrade this levee for the future,” Klobuchar said.

A group of people stand near a body of water.
Sen. Tina Smith and Sen. Amy Klobuchar talk to Carver Mayor Courtney Johnson while touring the levee and Minnesota River in the downtown area on Sunday, June 23, 2024.
Nicole Ki | MPR News

The senators and U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer are seeking funding for the levee. Johnson would love to see construction begin on the project in 2025.

“We hope to have shovels in the ground for it as early as next summer,” said Johnson. “But more immediately, we’re looking at potentially a history-making crest and that it will be the second highest since only 1965. So we’ve got a plan in place. We’ve got the right people at the table, and I'm confident that we will make it through to next week at this time.”

Water seen pushing through a cinderblock wall.
Water seeps through the basement walls of Getaway Motor Cafe in downtown Carver, Minnesota after days of heavy rain and flooding on Sunday, June 23, 2024.
Nicole Ki | MPR News

Until then, Johnson said Carver will be sleeping with one eye open.

Nate Roise and his wife own the Getaway Motor Cafe in downtown, one of the many businesses impacted by flooding. The cafe has luckily only had minor damage because of the levee and their sump pump system.

But many businesses and houses aren’t equipped with a sump pump to help remove water.

“As the water gets higher and higher on the levee, I get a little more nervous,” Roise said. “But we have a good plan in place and we invested in the right kind of preventative measures, but we'll see what happens. You know, the next couple days will really tell the story.”

Stillwater prepares for rising water levels on St. Croix River

A road closed sign.
Roads are closed in Stillwater Sunday as the city prepares for rising river waters on the St. Croix River.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Some residents who live along the St. Croix River are preparing for flooding as the water rises.

The City of Stillwater has build a dike along part of the St. Croix in hopes to keeping flood waters at bay.

Don Moe lives in a community of condominiums along the St. Croix River in Bayport.

He and his neighbors are accustomed to dealing with flooding but not typically at this time of the year. They are cleaning out their tuck-under garages and are getting everything off of the cement floors.

Moe also has in place bright orange netting at his garage door.

A man stands outside of a garage.
Don Moe lives in a condominium along the St. Croix River in Bayport and is preparing for rising floodwaters.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“We call it a flood fence to keep out debris, to keep out fish to keep out animals. So that when the floodwater comes in and keeps everything out, and after it recedes, it's a process of cleanup after that.”

Moe says he and his neighbors have been told the St. Croix will crest later this week.

Mankato sets out for cleaning up after weekend flooding

In Mankato on Saturday, residents and businesses spent the day cleaning up from the deluge that flooded streets and basements a day earlier.

At the Wooden Spoon in Old Town Mankato, owner Natasha Frost sent her staff home early to get ahead of the flash flooding that overtook Riverfront Drive.

A person gives a thumbs up while driving through a parking ramp
A City of Mankato employee gives a thumbs up to a coworker as they cleaned mud out of a parking ramp that was flooded on Friday and left many cars submerged underwater.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Parking ramps near downtown filled with water, and businesses spent the day cleaning out trash and debris. The city declared a local emergency, which can help the city receive assistance related to flooding if a state or federal disaster is declared.

While she’s thankful her business is relatively OK, Frost thinks of others in Mankato weren’t so lucky.

“We’re not in this alone,” Frost said. “These are unchartered territory for many of the small businesses and homeowners.”

Meanwhile, Mankato residents tossed out damaged property at a debris collection site. They drove up in vehicles and discarded ripped up carpet, warped wooden furniture and soaked sofas.

A rock slide on a street
Judson Bottom Road in North Mankato has been closed due to a rock slide on the road that hugs the Minnesota River. Photographed on Friday.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Stacie Vanoverbeke and Jane Krummel came by to toss out Vanoverbeke’s classroom materials that were damaged by the flooding. She also lost some of her childhood belongings, including an Easy-Bake oven and a Lite-Bright set.

“It’s sad and you can’t find square pegs anymore! Most of them are round,” Vanoverbeke said.

At least 19 other basements in the city were flooded. But not everyone’s had a chance to make it to the debris collection site yet.

The Minnesota River is expected to crest at 28 feet on Monday morning.

Jeff Bengston, associate director for public safety, says the community is hanging on. “People are just working through it,” he said. “It’s difficult for those that are impacted. But those, they’re doing their best to work through it.”

Rice County and other communities around Minnesota

Elsewhere in Minnesota, Rice County declared a state of emergency on Saturday. The Cannon River at Northfield was forecasted to crest at 1 a.m. on Sunday. Faribault opened a self-service sandbag station, and Morristown provided residents with sandbag supplies at its Public Works Building.

Mud on the top of a car
Mud left on a car in a lower level of a parking ramp in downtown Mankato on Saturday.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Like many places, Rice County has barricaded flooded roads. But some drivers are ignoring barricades. Joseph Johnson, the county’s director of emergency management, said people should avoid that temptation.

“Turn around, don’t drown,” Johnson said. “You don’t know what’s happened over the last 24 hours of that road. It could be washed out. It takes about 12 inches of water to wash a vehicle away and about 6 inches to sweep you off your feet. The water the water is moving right now, it is extremely dangerous right now to be out in the flood water.”

A building sits surrounded by water
A building in Rice County sits surrounded by water due to flooding Saturday, June 23, 2024.
Courtesy of Rice County

Windom, a town of about 4,800 people, received 1.25 inches of rain on top of earlier heavy downpours, and the Des Moines River there had a record crest.

“We’re having a tough time just keeping up, putting up barricades,” city council member Jenny Quaid said. “We put barricades up, and then all of a sudden the water’s rising so much, the barricade’s way back in the water.”

Brent Hewett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said southern Minnesota has been hit hard in the last two days, receiving between 7 to 10 inches of rainfall. Similar rainfall submerged the town of Cook in northeastern Minnesota this week.

It helped that the rain followed a prolonged drought and dry winter, according to Hewett, but any further rain showers could potentially spell disaster.

“Unfortunately, now that we’ve seen so much rain in this area, even just that half inch or you know anything extra, can cause this kind of minor urban or street flooding,” Hewett said.

MPR News reporter Feven Gerezgiher contributed to this story.