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Mother Nature sends snow, flooding to SD

Kevin Roth, top from left, Lyndon Overweg and Marius Laursen pour sand into bags while filling sandbags at the city's Street Department building on Thursday morning at 1405 W. Eighth Ave. in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 3
Craig Fuerst places another palette of sandbags outside the city's Street Department building for people to take on Thursday morning at 1405 W. Eighth Ave. in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 3
Tyler Vetch, center, puts a sandbag onto the pile on a palette as he and other city employees fill sandbags at the city's Street Department building on Thursday at 1405 W. Eighth Ave. in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)3 / 3

At midday Thursday, the assembly line for sandbags was chugging along.

City of Mitchell workers were scooping sandbags, tying them off and stacking them on pallets for members of the community to use to stifle high waters that have been threatening Mitchell basements and homes for the last two days.

Colder temperatures brought snow instead of rain on Thursday, along with high winds and an icy slush that made the city a mess and slowed down flooding conditions around town. Mitchell officially received 1.85 inches of rain Wednesday, per the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.

"It's just the amount of water. It's just all over," said Mitchell Chief of Public Safety Lyndon Overweg, who was one of about a dozen city workers filling sandbags.

"There's places with standing water that we've just never seen before," Overweg added. "With the frost in the ground, stuff just isn't moving. We've got culverts that are jammed up and bridges and creeks that are jammed. We're trying to salvage as much as we can. ... You try to minimize damage and provide for the public what we can."

Across the state, roadways remained flooded or blocked by giant snow drifts, and South Dakota is preparing for an emergency declaration, Gov. Kristi Noem said.

"We expect several counties to approve emergency declarations once they have time following the immediate response to the storm," Noem said. "Once that happens, the state will issue its own emergency declaration. In the meantime, we are staying in touch with all counties across the state and finding the resources they need to respond effectively and keep South Dakotans safe."

Mitchell received 4.2 inches of snow by midday Thursday, according to one report filed to the National Weather Service.

Mitchell Street Superintendent Kevin Roth called the conditions in the city "pretty rough," and he said city workers didn't have to do much with the streets except make sure drains were open.

"A lot of that is from the massive snowmelt in a hurry. We didn't have a lot to do street-wise. ... The rain basically took care of whatever snowmelt was going to happen," he said. "It was really just getting those drains open so that water could get in there and drain."

Roth said the city got a lot of calls from homeowners about getting sandbags for their homes. Overweg said there was a couple of days of early preparation, foreseeing that some sandbags would be needed. But once the city received calls from people looking for help because retail stores were out of sand, workers and volunteers stepped in to fill bags.

"People didn't know where to go," Overweg said. "Water was coming in their house. We had a number of these on hand. We actually started a couple of days ago in anticipation, and we had a few pallets loaded."

On Thursday evening, the city of Mitchell's street department said it will not be plowing any streets within the city. Workers opened all catch basins, culverts and drains.

"We ask that the residents be patient and let the slush in the roads dissipate as the weather warms," said a press release from the city. "This will allow all the drains and culverts to remain unplugged and draining. This will also keep driveways opened up and less work for the homeowners."

If problem areas arise, workers will clean up those areas. With areas that need immediate attention, contact the Mitchell police at 995-8400.

Roth estimated they had created 1,500 sandbags on Wednesday, and the city was expected to easily exceed that figure on Thursday. Officials put out the call for the public to come get sandbags during the afternoon hours, while also seeking additional volunteers to help.

"This is probably the worst we've seen since 1984 or 1985," Roth said. "I've lived here my whole life and I'd put it right there."

Elsewhere in the city, officials also said the water restrictions for the sanitary sewer systems on the north end of Mitchell have been lifted. Mitchell saw its highest wind gust at 59 mph, while the area's highest wind speed was recorded at 65 mph at the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge.

Power outages also continued to be an issue Thursday. A section in the southwest portion of Mitchell was without power from about 2:30 to 5 p.m. Thursday. About 1,000 NorthWestern Energy customers waited after the wind knocked down power lines along East Norway Avenue.

In rural areas, Central Electric had 223 customers without power as of 11:30 a.m. Thursday, with 170 of those customers in Jerauld County. By 4:30 p.m., that total had climbed to more than 250 customers without power, including 202 in Jerauld County.

I-90 remained closed between Rapid City and Exit 260 at Oacoma, while a stretch from the Wyoming border to Rapid City was allowed to reopen. State officials also reported significant flooding in the southeastern part of the state, including a section of I-90 between Exits 264 and 268. Over the Missouri River, the Chief Standing Bear Bridge on State Highway 37 at Running Water between Springfield and Niobrara, Nebraska, has also been closed.

Several of South Dakota's rivers have become problematic. The James River near Scotland hit 18.69 feet on Thursday. That's considered major flood stage. Near Mitchell, the James River was in minor flood stage at 17.82 feet.

At the Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, water releases increased Thursday to 60,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The increases, up from 27,000 cfs, were needed due to rising inflow into the reservoir. Additional increases could be made Friday as the storage capacity builds.

"We strongly advise everyone along the Missouri River to maintain awareness of local conditions and changing river levels," said John Remus, chief of the Corps' Missouri River Water Management Division in Omaha.

Gov. Kristi Noem says the state will issue an emergency declaration for the storm. State government, which was closed in South Dakota on Thursday, continues to provide resources as needed to counties and cities dealing with the local impacts of the storm. Agencies like the Departments of Public Safety and Transportation have been working with local entities on their particular requests.

Noem on Thursday opened the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to help coordinate a response to the blizzard and flooding conditions. She also announced the state is preparing an emergency declaration.

The EOC is located in Pierre and will be staffed by emergency management personnel

"Having the EOC open gives counties one place to go in state government with their questions or resource requests," Noem said. "With the EOC, we have the needed state agencies at one site together to help better manage the response to this severe storm."

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