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After a stop at the Jaycees Block Party face painter, Damon Swierenga, 5, foreground right, and his 3-year-old brother Emery and their mother Krystal wait out a brief shower at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Willmar Fests event in downtown Willmar. The Swierenga family are downtown residents. Rain impacted the Willmar Fests kiddie parade as well. And other parts of the region experienced stormier conditions Thursday afternoon, with several funnel clouds reported. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

Heavy rains create problems in west central Minnesota

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR –– Counties closed washed-out roads, cities discharged untreated sewage and homeowners dried out basements following heavy rains early Thursday that dumped nearly 8 inches of rain in parts of west central Minnesota.

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Renville County and Redwood County are among the 35 Minnesota counties included in a State of Emergency declared Thursday afternoon by Gov. Mark Dayton.

The executive order makes a variety of state resources available and engages state agencies in response efforts.

“I thought we were going to sneak by until last night,” said Jim Sandgren, emergency management director for Redwood County.

But the new rain added insult to injury in an area that was already soggy from heavy spring storms.

Many homeowners are dealing with wet basements.

“There’s a lot of water in basements,” said Sandgren.  “Just a lot of water everywhere.”

The same is true in Renville County, where some parks have been closed because of flooding.

The Olivia City Council met in an emergency session Thursday morning to find solutions to the issues going on there after 6 inches of rain fell in the community overnight.

“We have quite a problem here,” said Olivia City Administrator Dan Coughlin.

“The storm water system is at capacity. Our holding ponds are at a foot of cresting and the drainage ditches are about to crest,” said Coughlin.

The council agreed to join the Minnesota Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, which is a statewide joint powers agency that provides emergency resources to communities.

The local fire department may be called to help if the water continues to rise, said Coughlin, adding that after the meeting the council members had to deal with water and sewage in the basement of their own homes.

“We’re working the problem,” said Coughlin. “Lord willing, we don’t get any additional rain here.”

Sandgren said overland flooding has washed out several roads in Redwood County. He said there have also been reports of rails washed out on a railroad line.

He said assessments of the damage to public property were taking place Thursday so that financial estimates could be filed to see if the county will qualify for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“It’s hard to do this early on because you have to see through muddy water,” said Sandgren.

If the damage assessments reach a high enough threshold, the county could get financial assistance for repairing public property. He said the individual damages will not likely qualify for any assistance.

“We have numerous wet basements in the community as you would expect,” said Keith Muetzel, city administrator for Redwood Falls.

Like many towns hit by the recent heavy rains, untreated sewage was being discharged in Redwood Falls and Olivia in order to relieve pressure on the sanitary sewer system. Many communities are asking residents to use their water and sewer systems sparingly to avoid overloading the system.

In Bird Island, public works crews were trying to find a potential breach in the sanitary sewer system that was being inundated with storm water, said City Administrator Deb Lingl.

“Obviously, we’ve had a lot of water and we’re looking at things,” said Lingl. “We just don’t need any more rain at this point.”

The National Weather Service had a flood warning in place until Thursday night for the eastern portion of Yellow Medicine County, all of Renville County and the northern portion of Redwood County.

The warning raised the impact of flooding from minor to moderate on the Minnesota River at Montevideo. By 11 a.m. Thursday the river was 15.3 feet and flood stage is 14 feet.

The forecast calls for the river to rise to 16.6 feet by Saturday afternoon before the levels begin to fall. At 17 feet, storm sewers may need to be plugged to prevent water from backing up into the streets, according to the Weather Service.

The Redwood River is expected to crest at 8.2 feet by this afternoon. Flood stage is 6 feet on the river and the flooding impact will be on low-lying farmland and roads along the river.

“We’ve got some localized flooding here, south and east of Granite Falls,” said Yellow Medicine County Sheriff Bill Flaten, in an interview Thursday morning.

“The low-lying areas are full up,” he said. “A bunch of roads are covered.”

Flaten said reports from the town of Wood Lake indicate as much as 10 inches of rain fell there, flooding streets and causing problems with storm sewers and sanitary sewer systems.

“They’re busy pumping,” said Flaten.

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