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Residents along James prepare for flood crest

The crest of rising water on the James River is expected to come Friday, a day earlier than originally planned. In the meantime, residents who live along the river are preparing, while hoping that the worst of the flooding will soon be behind the...

The crest of rising water on the James River is expected to come Friday, a day earlier than originally planned.

In the meantime, residents who live along the river are preparing, while hoping that the worst of the flooding will soon be behind them.

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety estimates that levels in the Mitchell area will crest at 25.7 feet on Friday, nearly 10 feet past the flood stage of 17 feet. Upstream in Huron, where the flood stage is 11 feet, the James River crested on Monday at 17.69 feet.

Paul Muth lives near the shore of the James River just outside of Mitchell. After spending parts of two days building a sandbag barricade, he said he's anxiously awaiting to see if the Department of Public Safety's prediction for the Mitchell area rings true.

Muth has dealt with high water levels before, but he wasn't expecting such an abundance of water this year.

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"We were fishing out there a week ago," he said. "It hasn't been out of the banks for a few years. We were surprised."

But rain-laden storms throughout eastern South Dakota - and especially upstream, where Aberdeen received approximately 8 inches - have pushed the James' levels upward.

Muth, who had property damaged during last weekend's tornadoes, said he plans on doing what he can to recover from the repercussions of the storm.

"We've been through it before," he said. "We'll just keep an eye on it."

The good news is that there isn't much rain in the forecast, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Hacker.

"We don't have anything of real significance precipitation-wise in the forecast," she said. "It will not be a lot when you average it over the entire basin."

Although the crest is expected Friday, Davison County Emergency Management Director Jim Montgomery said water levels in the James River won't drastically subside until approximately June 5. Until then, he intends to continue to monitor rural roads as well as make sandbags available to Davison County residents.

"Right now, you just have to wait and see what it does," he said. "I'm thinking that it's probably slowing down."

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The increasing floodwaters forced Holly Hansen to relocate horses and cattle to higher ground. She said she's used to some sort of spring flooding, but the high water this week has overtaken a riding arena and now is perilously close to a barn.

Hanson lives on the west bank of the James, north of Mitchell. She said the current situation is above and beyond anything she has experienced.

Still, Hansen said, it's not time to panic.

"If it came up any more, we might have to sandbag in front of the barn to keep it out," she said. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

The James River isn't the only problem. Firesteel Creek, too, is out of its banks and has flooded a portion of Wild Oak Golf Club, on the eastern edge of Mitchell.

John Doescher, manager at the course, said he is waiting for Firesteel Creek to stop going over the spillway at Lake Mitchell. Once that happens, he said, he'll be able to pump off the water that currently covers six of Wild Oak's 18 holes.

"As soon as Firesteel drops where we can pump back into it, we will," he said. "We've got an army of equipment ready to go."

Doescher said water hasn't been pumped off the course since 2001. Still, the course is prone to flooding and that past experience prevents him from getting too upset about the situation, he said.

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"We've been through it so many times that we're used to it," he said. "It's a big inconvenience, but it's not the end of the world."

Once Doescher is able to start removing water from the course, he expects things to be completely restored within seven to 10 days.

"It affects our business, but at least we've got 12 other holes they can play," he said.

Hanson County Emergency Manager Ray Thomas said residents' reactions to the flooding in his county have exemplified how disaster brings out the best in people.

"You just cannot believe the outpouring of help," he said. "It's just beautiful seeing people work together."

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