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Monday, May 30, 2011

There's a flood coming to Pierre, South Dakota.

Spilling basin open!

You probably haven't heard, since it doesn't seem to be making the national news, but South Dakota is preparing for a flood. Heavy rain and snowfall this winter and spring in the mountains of Montana (they're flooding too, maybe you heard?) is sending record amounts of water down the Missouri River, through North Dakota and into South Dakota.  The capitol of SD, Pierre,  is right on the banks of the river. The Oahe Dam, just north of Pierre, is holding back all this extra water, for now. Eventually it'll continue downriver and flood areas of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.  I'm sure you've all seen these pictures of the flooding in Mississippi- people were building sandwalls around their homes in an effort to save them. We're doing that here in Pierre, South Dakota. We have until Thursday.

On Thursday, the US Army Corps of Engineers will be upping the amount of water released through the spillways to unprecedented amounts.  All of this extra water will flood into the towns of Pierre and Ft. Pierre.  It WILL happen, there is too much water to prevent it. They are holding off until Thursday while the SD National Guard, and every available body in Pierre, turns out to build a series of levees along the river in both towns. Every size, shape, model and vintage of dump truck is on the road hauling sand. The levees are expected to hold back water reaching a height of 1436. These numbers were determined on Saturday. Last night there were 5 more inches of snow in the Black Hills. Billings, Montana got more snow. It is raining. Once it floods the water is expected to stay in place well into July.

There are maps posted showing where the water will go when it gets here. There are a lot of houses that will be underwater. Like this one.  There are neighborhoods that won't get any assistance because of the short amount of time. Most people in those neighborhoods don't have flood insurance, since the flooding is exceeding the 100 year flood plain.  They are left to build their own sandwalls and to empty their homes of anything they might want to keep dry. It will flood all the riverside parks, playgrounds, the baseball fields, many of the walking paths, and all of the campgrounds.  Boats won't be able to get into or out of the water. Fishing is unlikely. Hopefully downtown Pierre will stay dry, but the homes between downtown and the river may not be so lucky.

Mike has sold out of every bit of flood preparation possible at his store, and then found more. He's made special trips to Rapid City to get more sump pumps and sewer plugs and miles of poly sheeting from the other stores (or had employees make special runs.)  His cell phone number is posted on the front door of the store for anyone who needs supplies off hours and he's stayed open hours past the official closing time, as well as gone in early to load more plywood and sheeting to other people.  So many of them sound so hopeless, even as they do their best to prepare. One man told him that if he hadn't put such a large downpayment down on the home he bought just three years ago, that he would walk away. He doesn't have flood insurance and he is expecting 6 feet of water in his home. Good thing he has all that equity, right?

It is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. It's a slow motion disaster, but people are really pulling together and helping each other out. Volunteers are filling sandbags by the tens of thousands.  People are spreading the word on Twitter with the hashtag #oaheflood, even if the national outlets aren't talking.   Roads are closed, people are asked to stay home if they can't help (like me, it's really hard to go fill sandbags with three small children!)  It is horrifying to watch, and at the same time you can't help but be a little optimistic that the sandbags and the levees will do their job and the town will be saved.  And be heartbroken for the people that didn't get a levee.

For us, we're on the north side of town, well out of any danger. However- one of the houses we looked at in December already has water at it's door. One of the houses we considered in March, the one we really thought we'd get, is in the floodplain.  It is only luck that we're not joining the hundreds of people who are leaving their homes for the summer.  It is amazing to me because if it snows hard I have friends from other states call or email to ask if we're ok, because it makes the news. Snow is nothing. We had feet and feet of snow and not one snow day. But not one person has asked if we're going to flood.  I don't think this is because they don't care, I think this is because it's not news. Yet. It will be.

(If you're here because you googled flood information, you can find a lot more specific info and levees and sandbagging and specific info about Pierre, Ft. Pierre, and the rest of the state of South Dakota at the Disaster Recovery page and the Capitol Journal homepage.)
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  1. The weather and weather related disasters are crazy this year. I hope Pierre doesn't sustain much damage.

  2. I've been watching the flood situation in SD, but then I knew it was coming with all that snow. My heart goes out to all the people who will be affected by it. It is rather odd that there hasn't been more national news on it... I guess once there are pictures of major flooding the news crews will arrive. Kudos to Mike for trying so hard to help the community during this crisis.

  3. Wow ... thank you for this. As one on the East Coast, I had no idea. Posting this on my FB page and in my links roundup now. Will keep you and the town in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. Wow. Thank you for informing us. I had no idea.

  5. I heard about this in the news! I'm glad you guys are out of the flood's path.. my thoughts are with your community and others around our country who are affected by all these floods and tornadoes. What a difficult spring this has been for so many. :(

  6. My hub is from Nebraska and I have a v.good friend from SD but I had to ask hub what OAHE was (I know Pierre tho). Prayers that the waters divert and flow away from disaster - you are SO right about it being a slow motion disaster thing and the worst is only staring, I'm sure. It's horrible! The weather this year is just awful. Hoping all is OK on your end.

  7. O my gosh. I think you are right because I haven't heard about this. My heart goes out to you all and I pray that you don't get any damage!

  8. I have to admit it's shocking. Granted I live in a bubble and so twitter seems to be my only source of information these days (didn't know about the Joplin tornado until my stepsister was talking about it).

    My heart goes out to you guys and all of Pierre. Send some of the water our way?

  9. We are praying for the communities up there. I am happy that you guys are out of the danger zone. Tell Mike that we are proud that he is serving his community in the best way he can.

  10. Wow, I hadn't even heard of this but I'll admit that I watch the news less and less these days. Just too depressing! Good luck with everything and I'm just glad to hear that your family is going to be safe.

  11. I had been thinking of you, but didn't have access to Internet for a few days. The very first time I saw the Mississippi River (crossing from Iowa into Illinois), there were houses floating in it. Made a lasting impression.

    I do feel so sorry for those who have lost and will lose their homes.

    Yes, there is new snow. (I got snowed on yesterday and am still chilled.) I think you mentioned this or hinted at it - the problem is that at the higher elevations it has been so cold. There is still over 8 feet of snow in the mountains here (Idaho). This late in the season, when the weather does turn it will get hot literally overnight causing rapid melting (runoff). Here, temps can go from freezing at night to 100 degrees in the daytime or turn to 100 degree weather with warm nights within a day or two. Luckily for you, you live on the other side of the Continental Divide so won't get this added to your mess.

    Glad you out of harms way. And, it is nice to know that people are working together.

  12. Great post, Lisa! It boggles my mind that they didn't think to release some of the water more gradually and sooner so as to avoid this, but I guess they know what they're doing. Omaha is prepping as well; the downtown can handle 46-48 feet above flood stage and we are only expecting to get 36 feet. But there are a lot of homes and businesses that will be gone when it's done. So glad to know that your family is safe!


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