Swollen creek claims two lives near Reliance; river tops levee at ChamberlainRELIANCE — Darrell Middletent shook his head Tuesday as he scanned the swollen banks of Counselor Creek for a body that was swept from a vehicle about four miles upstream.
By: CHRIS HUBER and AUSTIN KAUS, The Daily Republic
RELIANCE — Darrell Middletent shook his head Tuesday as he scanned the swollen banks of Counselor Creek for a body that was swept from a vehicle about four miles upstream.
A section of BIA Road 10, also known as 329th Street and located just north of the state Highway 47 intersection, collapsed Tuesday morning from rushing water caused by heavy rain between Reliance and Lower Brule. The torrent swept at least two cars down the river, and state officials said two people in the vehicles died. One was a 56-year-old Chamberlain woman whose body was found in her vehicle about 100 yards downstream from the washout, and the other was a 61-year-old Lower Brule woman whose body was found about four miles downstream.
Neither victim wore a seat belt, said authorities, who did not immediately release the victims’ names.
“The current is just so strong right now,” Middletent said earlier as he searched for the victims. “I just hope they are hanging on to a tree somewhere.”
Middletent said it looked like the road had been “cut like a piece of cake” where a box culvert washed out when the creek picked up strength.
The Reliance-Lower Brule area was one many locations effected by a line of heavy Monday-Tuesday rainstorms that stretched in a roughly northeasterly band from Burke to Huron. Unofficial reports of rainfall amounts were as high as 10 inches, which was reported by residents south of Kimball. In some locations, the new rain followed several inches that had already fallen overnight Sunday and early Monday morning.
In Chamberlain, where residents had so far escaped much of the flooded Missouri River’s wrath, the river finally topped a temporary levee Monday evening at the American Creek Campground and flooded the lower part of the facility.
Campground Manager Rob Brown said water splashed over the levee around 6 p.m. Monday evening and by Tuesday morning, more than a foot and a half of water flooded the lower parts of the campground.
“We had already moved all of the campers out of that area days before,” Brown said. “We knew it was coming. We just thought it would be about mid-July when it finally got here.”
City of Chamberlain workers trudged through a foot of water to move fences and plug toilets in the campground Tuesday morning as the water continued to rise.
“It’s kind of a stinky job,” said Ryan Meek, the city worker tasked with plugging the toilets, before adding “no pun intended.”
Brown said a few more campers will be moved as a precautionary measure, because the water is expected to rise in the coming days.
“It’s kind of like déjà vu,” Brown said, referring to last year’s flooding in the campground.
Kathy Houchin, of Kennebec, had been at the campground since Friday and was attaching a fifth-wheel trailer to her pickup to be moved.
“Time to move to higher ground,” Houchin said as she helped guide the pickup into place.
Southeast of Chamberlain, in an area south of Kimball, many roads were flooded Tuesday. Greg Mairose, a farmer in the area, said he had to drive six miles out of his way to reach his father’s residence. At the Lake 16 Golf Course, the parking lot and a cart shed were flooded.
Elsewhere, Steve Cassidy, superintendent of the Gregory County Highway Department, said portions of at least five roads were closed in his county because of damage from the heavy rainfall.
Unofficial estimates included 8 inches south of Burke, more than 6 inches east of Burke and 4.5 inches in the town itself.
“Basically, it ran right through the center of our county,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy said portions of 295th and 299th Street south of Burke, 286th Street and South Cemetery Road north of Herrick, and West Whetstone Road north of Bonesteel have been closed, although the department was doing its best to keep any non-affected portions of the roads open.
It’s too early to estimate what repair costs will be, Cassidy said, but “it’s not going to help anything.”
One of Cassidy’s largest concerns is that water from the Missouri River could seep into the county’s gravel pit located near Bonesteel.
“Hopefully, the water keeps going down,” Cassidy said. “Hopefully, the Missouri River doesn’t take our pit.”
Near Mitchell, the extra rain in the James River basin is predicted to swell the James River to 22.5 feet by the end of the month.
Jeff Chapman, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, said the James near Mitchell is expected to crest at 22.6 feet on June 27. That comes after the river had dropped to 20 feet recently. The river’s record crest is 25.33 feet in 2001.
Chapman said the rest of the week could bring a temporary end to rainfall in the area.
“We will continue to see lesser chances of showers continuing through Wednesday before some drier weather closes out the week,” Chapman said. “The remainder of the week through Friday right now looks to be dry after Wednesday.”
Firesteel Creek is expected to “respond a little quicker to the rainfall,” Chapman said. Near Mount Vernon, the creek was at 5.7 feet Tuesday afternoon and is expected to crest at 12.5 feet by Thursday morning. The creek’s flood stage is 8 feet.
At Lake Mitchell, which is an impoundment on Firesteel Creek, the rainfall earlier this week caused the water level to rise 4 inches to approximately 5 inches above the spillway, said Tim McGannon, public works director for the city of Mitchell. He expects the water level to reach a foot above the spillway in the next one to two days.
McGannon said the water was approximately 40 inches above the spillway level at this time last year, causing the department to deploy boom trucks to start removing trees that were getting caught on the lake’s West End Bridge.
“We pulled out three truckloads of trees,” McGannon said.
He hopes similar methods won’t be necessary this year, and he doesn’t expect they will.