By mid-afternoon Monday, Jeff Bathke was finally able to take stock of where things stood.
He had 37 email messages to respond to, and six voicemails to return. All of them related to the flood damage in Davison County from the storms last week. So is the life of the Davison County Emergency Management Director right now, trying to grasp the level of damage since Sept. 12 in the area with homes destroyed, families displaced and county roads and bridges out of commission.
“There’s areas where you can drive a truck between where the bridge was and the road,” Bathke said. “We’re out of barricades (for these roads). This is the worst we’ve seen in the county, so far.”
Currently, 18 residents are still displaced to a hotel. “Many, many more,” Bathke said, have found temporary housing either with family and friends, or in campers or RVs. Five homes and structures have collapsed basements, and Bathke said he anticipates that number could climb.
Bathke said any individuals who had property affected by even a small amount of water, he wants to hear from them. He’s hoping to cast a wide net, to receive as complete of a picture of the damage as possible. The county has set Wednesday as its deadline for those pictures and reports, but said it’s a short questionnaire. (Pictures and reports should be emailed to Bathke at email@example.com.)
“For any of these homes that are uninhabitable, they’re going to be on the short list,” he said.
The American Red Cross will be in Mitchell on Thursday, and Bathke said one of the focuses will be on getting those displaced individuals short-term relief in terms of a place to stay.
The county will be asking for homeowners to answer a 10- to 12-question survey, which will provide information on the level of the damage, septic damage, accessibility to the home, number of people displaced, insurance status and other details. (That questionnaire is available on the county’s website.)
Bathke said the scope of the damage is broad, and not specific to one part of the county.
“There are a lot of places that got hit hard, it wasn’t just one place,” he said.
That includes the county’s roads, too. Nine bridges in the county have been deemed either structurally unsafe or completely destroyed. The county is out of barricades for roadways, but is still asking for individuals to contact them if they notice severe damage to a roadway. Bathke said their figures only include county roads, and he expects the number of destroyed roads to climb when the townships report their damage.
Maybe no other place in the county exhibits the power of the flood waters more than the county’s bridge on Red Arrow Road (also known as 406th Avenue) between 459th and 460th Streets, about 8 miles southwest of Mitchell.
“The county just rebuilt that entire road,” Bathke said. “Now, it’s a brand new road that you can’t use, because the bridge is out.”
In a nearby field, there’s a pile of what looks like rocks. But that’s merely concrete from the old bridge’s decking that has been busted into smaller chunks and thrown out into the field.
Another notable bridge out is on 411th Avenue, east of the Enemy Creek development and State Highway 37, where the entire bridge is gone. On the west side of the county, four bridges are considered out of service in Union Township south of Mount Vernon, in a roughly three-mile span.
“It’s amazing what the water has done to these structures,” he said. “These won’t be cheap to replace, either.”
Bathke said that’s led to a public safety concern, specifically for fire and ambulance services. He said it’s easier to tell those services what roads they can take, rather than what’s closed. He projects it will likely take an extra 20 minutes to reach some places.
“We’re hoping that we don’t have a major incident, because it’s going to take a long time to get those back open, maybe even a year for some of these bridges to be built back and replaced.”
Bathke said having pictures of damage is helpful for reporting to the Federal Emergency Management Administration, or FEMA, in the case of getting any public or individual assistance. There’s no guarantee of federal disaster funding, and the likelihood of FEMA individual assistance, which assists individual property owners after a disaster, is low in South Dakota, Bathke said.
“We’re doing really good, but it’s just a matter of keeping up on it and keeping everything organized for the long run,” he said.
City flood cleanup underway
The city of Mitchell crews will pick up flood damaged debris free of charge at residences curbside next week on the normal garbage collection day. Residents are asked to put items curbside on the day of their regular garbage collection and it will be collected. Items should be on the curb by 7:30 a.m. on the day of collection. Those items will be collected only at curbside, and will only be done free of charge this week.