Minnesota Towns Battle 'Flood of Our Lives'

Residents of Roseau battled Tuesday to save their far northwestern Minnesota city from a record flood on the rain-swollen Roseau River.

"We're having the flood of our lives here," Mayor Jeff Pelowski said.

As much as 12 inches of rain was reported in the town of Roosevelt, Warroad received more than 11 inches and much of extreme northwestern Minnesota had received 5-6 inches of rain since Saturday night. However, the storms largely missed the town of Ada, where officials said the flood threat was receding.

Some communities in southern Minnesota also experienced torrential rains early Tuesday.

Roseau set its flood record of 21.1 feet twice in 1996 — in April and again in May. Flood stage is 16 feet. Pelowski said the waters were at 21.04 feet as of 7:15 a.m. and the weather service projected a crest of 22.5 to 23 feet late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

"We're basically sandbagging for our survival," the mayor said.

Roseau is protected by a levee system up to about 22 feet.

"But it's an old levee and it's not an officially approved levy that the Corps of Engineers would recognize, so we're hoping it holds up. It's saturated," Pelowski said.

The mayor explained that the levee system is normally still frozen solid when the river fills with snow melt in the spring. It isn't frozen now.

"We have a whole army of people out there putting out sandbags and trying to stay ahead of the river," he said. But they were getting tired, he added, and other nearby communities were sending reinforcements.

"We don't want to lose when we've fought this hard," Pelowski said.

Finding enough sandbags on such short notice has been difficult, he said. Besides the levees, another concern was pumping out the water that was seeping into town. "We need pumps, and we need lots of pumps," he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it was sending water pumps, engineers and 40,000 sandbags to Roseau and Warroad.

The only major route into Roseau that was still open was Minnesota Highway 11 from the west, he said, but there was no way in or out to the east or south. Canada is 10 miles to the north.

The situation was better about 20 miles to the east in Warroad, where the Warroad River went over its banks Monday but had receded about 1-1.5 feet since 1 a.m., Police Chief Laurence Wright said. He said the sewer system and storm drains were catching up.

"We've never experienced this before, so even the National Weather Service has no idea what flood stage is for our area," Wright said.

About 60 people in 20 households were evacuated from the southwest part of Warroad on Monday afternoon. Some businesses were still closed due to water damage Tuesday, but more than half were open, the police chief said.

"I've talked to a teacher that's been here 53 years and this is worst flooding she's ever seen," Wright said.

A few people who live near the golf course in Warroad had water up to their doorsteps and had to move out. About 25 people decided to spend the night on cots provided by the Red Cross after the roads to their homes were washed out.

Harriet Heinen, a Red Cross volunteer, said the rain gauge at her house just three miles south of Warroad measured 15 inches.

"It is just unbelievable," Heinen said. "Everything is water -- no matter where you look."

About 110 miles to the south-southwest, the situation was also improving in Ada, on the Wild Rice and Marsh rivers, where the National Guard joined volunteers building up the town's dikes to stave off the worst flooding they had seen since the catastrophic flood of 1997.

The flood threat had apparently subsided at both Ada and nearby Borup, said Dave Christenson, emergency operations chief for the Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District. The corps sent engineers to both those communities as well.

Norman County Emergency Manager Kevin Ruud said he was encouraged that the Wild Rice River had dropped more than 3 feet in Twin Valley, about 10 miles upstream from Ada.

But the fight wasn't over. Ruud said Tuesday's clearing skies only made him nervous that they could cloud over again.

A threat of up to 2 additional inches of rain Monday failed to materialize.

"It really looked nasty on the radar, but it mellowed out by the time it got to us," Ruud said. "I don't even know if we got a tenth of an inch."

Nevertheless, he said, the Wild Rice River was "still holding its own" and had not dropped significantly in Ada.

Crews planned to work Tuesday to clear a logjam under a bridge on Ada's south side that was slowing the river's drainage, he said. Other workers planned to monitor the city's earthen dikes, which can become saturated and weakened when water stays high against them for a long time, he said.

Floodwaters were making their way toward farms and smaller towns in western Norman County, where some roads that had been passable on Monday were going under water Tuesday, Ruud said.

At the opposite end of the state, heavy thunderstorms moved across southern Minnesota early Tuesday. Nearly 5 inches of rain fell in parts of Faribault County, leaving standing water in many fields. Farmers in the area on the Iowa border said they expected to lose some of their crops. Authorities in the city Blue Earth reported 2 feet of water on some roads within city limits and manhole covers blowing off sewers.

In the Rochester area, which received 4-6 inches of rain overnight, plugged culverts caused some flooding in the northwest part of the city. Water was reported over U.S. Highway 52 for a time, and one passenger had to be rescued from a stalled vehicle.