The flooding conditions in Mitchell called first responders and rescue personnel into action on Wednesday and Thursday, with high water moving into the region quickly.
And it’s only rising.
Local leaders expect Firesteel Creek and Dry Run Creek each to climb another 2 feet before cresting on Friday night.
“We’re looking at another 24 hours of this,” Mitchell Assistant Fire Chief Marius Laursen said. “There’s an unknown possibility of rain, so we’re going to be on heightened alert.”
There was one significant crash on Wednesday night that left a male with minor injuries after hydroplaning on Interstate 90 6 miles west of Mitchell.
According to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, a westbound 2008 Fortwo Smart Car hydroplaned when it drove into approximately one foot of water covering the interstate, and it tipped onto its side.
At 10:51 p.m., an eastbound 2018 Chevrolet Silverado collided with the overturned Smart Car.
The 37-year-old male driver of the Smart Car, who was wearing a seat belt and was the vehicle's only occupant, was taken to the Mitchell hospital for minor injuries. The 34-year-old male driver and 30-year-old female passenger in the pickup were uninjured and were also both wearing seat belts.
Charges have not been filed against either driver. Laursen said he believed it was the only injury connected to the flooding so far.
In the late morning on Thursday, Mitchell first responders and rescue personnel had to conduct a water rescue in the area of 2200 W. Third Ave., on the very west edge of Mitchell. There, a man and a woman were caught off guard when waters started to rise and could not exit their home.
When a nearby friend wasn’t able to help either, Laursen said, they called 911. Three rescue personnel on an inflatable rescue boat picked up the man and woman and brought them to safety.
Laursen said that kind of water rescue in Mitchell has been “pretty rare” over his 22-year career in the city.
Overnight, Laursen said the department responded to several basement collapses. Laursen said city public safety first responders also had several requests for assistance on Thursday night, but those ultimately resulted in people ending up rescuing themselves.
“There were dozens of stranded vehicles around the community,” Laursen estimated. “We had a bunch where we went and ultimately didn’t need to help.”
An overnight rescue
Don Walters was in Mitchell late Wednesday night in the thick of the downpours. He contacted The Daily Republic on Thursday to say that he saw a pair of Mitchell Technical Institute students help pull out a stranded motorist on Norway Avenue around midnight. He took some video that he shared on social media showing the men — he didn't get their names — helping out others. One of them had waders in his truck and climbed down into the water to hook up the chain to pull the car out.
“I didn’t want a good deed like that to go unnoticed,” he said. “God bless those real Dakotans, you know.”
Walters, who lives north of Mount Vernon, said he believed the water was about 1 1/2-feet deep when the vehicle got stuck. He waited out part of the storm in the M&H gas station parking lot in Mitchell, and believes there were probably others around town who helped others move stranded cars or people.
Walters said there were plenty of people who were driving irresponsibly for the conditions — “it was like Mario (Kart) or Grand Theft Auto there for a while,” he said — but said people in Mitchell still have a good heart.
“I was just saying, ‘Dude, you don’t know what’s in that water,’” Walters joked. “There’s a lot of idiots out there, but there’s a few country boys that are going to save the rest of us, and that’s still good to see.”
A bleak outlook
Davison County Emergency Management Director Jeff Bathke’s assessment of the flood damage in Mitchell and around the area was blunt.
“I haven’t talked to anyone that doesn’t have at least water in their basement,” he said on Thursday afternoon. “I think this is the worst thing we’ve seen. The dollar amount of the devastation is going to be significant.
“It’s going to suck for a long time for a lot people,” he added.
Bathke’s assessment of the coming months was also bleak.
“Flood insurance, if you have it, doesn’t pay well,” Bathke said. “Individual assistance is hard to get. It’s going to lead to a lot of money out of people’s pockets.”
Davison County did not open any public shelters, Bathke said, but had referred a handful of people to the Salvation Army, which was helping put displaced individuals into hotels for the night.
Along with Mitchell Assistant Police Chief Mike Koster, Laursen was also assessing different roads around town and blocking traffic when higher waters necessitated it.
“This natural disaster has created a lot of other issues for responding to emergencies around the county, because there’s washed out roads all over,” he said.
On Thursday morning, Mitchell’s Public Safety leaders advised people to not wade, stand, or play in the roadways because there could be raw sewage in the standing water.
“The water is moving a lot quicker than people believe and that is dangerous. And this water can have fecal matter and sewage in it,” Laursen said. “We can definitely smell that at Minnesota (Street) and Dry Run Creek. There’s yucky stuff in that water. If kids are playing in that, that’s not just safe.”