Crews Race to Fortify Levees as Floods Swallow Midwestern Towns - The World News

Crews Race to Fortify Levees as Floods Swallow Midwestern Towns

Midwestern towns were racing this week to strengthen their levee systems as rising rivers enveloped homes, drowned farmland and led to daring water rescues across three states.

In Iowa, where hundreds of properties were destroyed, rivers were receding in some places but still rising in others. In Minnesota, the National Guard was mobilized after as much as 18 inches of rain prompted evacuations. And in South Dakota, where one death was linked to the floods and some residents were advised to leave their homes, Gov. Kristi Noem warned on Sunday that “things are going to look worse before they get better.”

The county currently is about maxed out on being able to do water rescues,” Jason Westcott, the emergency management director in Union County, S.D., said on Sunday. “As we move further into this incident and it becomes more serious in this area, we may not have the ability to rescue people from their homes.”

The flooding followed heavy rains in recent days. With the ground already saturated, many creeks and rivers were overwhelmed. The Midwest has faced a range of weather extremes over the past several years, including record-breaking floods in 2019, persistent drought and relentless rainstorms this month. As climate change causes the planet to warm, such events will become more common, scientists say.

Workers in Union County, in southeastern South Dakota, were adding one-ton sandbags to levees as the week began and were working to protect the local water treatment plant. As the Big Sioux River in nearby Sioux City, Iowa, reached its highest level ever recorded on Sunday, Ms. Noem warned people to stay away from the floods.

“It’s incredibly dangerous for them to be anywhere near this kind of water flow that we’re seeing,” she said.

Farther north, in Lincoln County, S.D., the state’s Department of Public Safety said that an 87-year-old man had died while trying to turn around a utility terrain vehicle on a closed road where the shoulder had washed away.

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the recent rains had overwhelmed drainage systems, destroyed homes and swallowed farm fields. She said that the state’s Department of Natural Resources conducted 250 water rescues in a single day over the weekend, and estimated that at least 1,900 properties were affected in the state. Aerial photos of Rock Valley, a town of 4,000 people in northwestern Iowa, showed many homes underwater.

“Businesses are shuttered. Main streets have been impacted. Hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities were evacuated,” Ms. Reynolds said. “Cities are without power, and some are without drinkable water.”

In some areas, including Sioux Falls, S.D., and parts of northwest Iowa, the water was retreating and property owners were getting a clearer view of the damage. Elsewhere, the worst was likely still to come.

“That water will head downstream,” Ms. Reynolds said, “and areas to the south are planning for rivers to continue to crest at record levels.”

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