Big Sioux River breaks record; lots of flooding

Posted June 26, 2014 at 5:00 am


by Dodie Hook and

Steve Peterson

What happens when a dam breaks in Minnesota due to lots of rain and breaks a dam almost emptying a lake? We in Akron have a record breaking flood that’s what. The river stage in Akron crested at 25.58’ Wednesday, 9.58’ over the flood stage of 16’. The record was 23.38’ in 2001.

More than seven inches of rain fell June 14 at Blue Mounds State Park, MN, which caused a dam to fail. That night, the dam gave way allowing the water to flow out of Blue Mounds Lake. The water eventually ended up in the Rock River, which affects the Big Sioux River.

Towns affected by the deluge of water included Rock Rapids, Rock Valley, Hawarden, Akron, Westfield, Sioux City, and major parts of Union County in South Dakota.

In Akron it all started Monday, June 16 with rain, and that evening the possibility of tornadoes was strong as the sirens in town went off twice. That was the same night Pilger, NE, was devastated by the double twister.

“We weren’t taking any chances Monday when we blew the sirens. There were cells moving from Nebraska and especially when Pilger got hit with that double tornado, I decided to blow the sirens due to cloud rotation above Akron,” said Emergency Services Director Jon Coyle.

People around town have said they didn’t hear the sirens go off that night. Jon Coyle said the point of the siren is more for people outside to take cover, it is not meant for people inside.

The blast of the siren is the same sound for any emergency said Jon Coyle. There is no all clear given, when the siren stops sounding that is when it is clear.

Tuesday, June 17 the protection process for the city began. Volunteers helped fill hundreds of sandbags and the Akron Fire Department and Akron City Crews began sandbagging by the lift station at the end of Reed St. Other businesses were also preparing for high waters as the Farmers Coop moved chemicals, grain, and what they could away from the area and Total Motors moved all their cars up to the school.

Emergency crews spent many hours monitoring the dikes, sometimes getting little or no sleep.

Hundreds of volunteers showed up to help sandbag and distribute bags. “We were very thankful for the huge outpouring of volunteers,” said Jon Coyle.

All roads to the north of Akron were closing due to water over them. As a matter of fact, at one point I-29 between Beresford and Sioux Falls was closed due to water. It was said that from Sioux County you could not get to Sioux Falls.

In Akron at this point, the National Weather Service was predicting the river to crest at 24.9 feet June 20.

Things got worse for people trying to cross the river as roads south also closed including Highway 12 from Westfield to Riverside. Water had come over the Highway in a couple spots. Interstate 29 was also shut down from Vermillion to Dakota Dunes for crews to put up a barricade to stop potential water from flooding towns.

“They kept raising (the flood forecast) by the hour. The final reading was 25.58 feet, which was over the record. It’s still over the record at 24.3 feet,” said Akron City Administrator Gary Horton on Friday afternoon. A flood warning continued, as flood stage is at 16 feet.

Water began backing up on Reed St. due to the storm sewers. Emergency crews set up a pump and tubing to carry the water away from Reed St. Unfortunately the pumps couldn’t keep up and there was water back-up on Reed and Mill Streets.

At about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, water flowed over Highway 48 closing the road. On top of that there was a tornado watch and the sky once again look ominous. The people at the home ball games that night were cleared out for safety.

According to Fire Chief Shane Coyle and Police Chief Kimm Nielsen, in the early morning hours on June 18 a levy located within the City limits of Akron (across from Total Motors) was breached by high waters of the Big Sioux. Minor flooding occurred in the business district of Akron. The Akron Fire Department along with several volunteers were on the scene immediately and were able to sandbag the area stopping any further flooding downtown. Several large pumps were brought in, and were in continued use throughout the day pumping water away from Reed St.

Several homes on the west side of River Road were evacuated by fire and law enforcement personnel. Another eight homes were evacuated along the river from north of Akron to Highway 18 and Highway 12.

“We (the city of Akron) will be meeting with Iowa Homeland Security and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Now it’s the clean-up work for five homes along River Road and one business,” said Horton.

Wednesday, The Plymouth County Emergency Management Command Center set up at the State DOT facility at the corner of Iowa Highways 12 and 3 (across from Casey’s), along with the Red Cross.

Akron Jo’s fed volunteers Wednesday morning and then was assisted by Maynard’s, Mike’s Inc., and Akron Mercy Medical Clinic to serve lunch.

The crest came earlier than expected because significant water was released due to a dike failure causing water to flow to the agricultural land in Union County, SD, Wednesday. Sioux City did not crest as high as expected due to the dike breech here.

If flooding wasn’t bad enough, Akron’s electricity went out about 2 a.m. Thursday. Crews worked to find the problem and the problem was finally found along Highway 48. A tree had fallen into the lines. The problem was East River could not get to the area due to the water and were getting help from the National Guard to get a larger boat. Akron received help from Plymouth County Disaster Services and City of Hawarden to get generators for the lift station, trying to restore power. Emergency power from REC was received and residents were asked to keep electric usage to a minimum.

The power came back on midday Thursday. The outage caused problems with several businesses including Maynard’s who lost a lot of meat and dairy products.

As of press time, the problem along Highway 48 was still being worked on. However, the City of Akron hoped to switch over to East River around midnight Monday, June 23. Until the switch over was complete, the town was without electricity for a short period.

Big Sioux River Road (Highway 48) was closed to start this week. Horton said the road’s re-opening is expected this week.

“We’re working on repairs on our side on the edge of the highway,” said Horton.

Clean-up kits were delivered to River Road residents by American Red Cross on Friday and a few were available at City Hall as of Monday.

Horton said he expects that the Big Sioux River will go below flood stage this week.

Ken Less and sons Andy and Mitch donated the lagoon pump which was used to spray flood water last week over the dike.

“A huge thank-you to the Akron Fire Department and all the volunteers,” said Horton.

Dirt that was brought in and placed around the dike will stay, said Horton.

“We’ll talk to Homeland Security about moving the lift station and adding some valves,” said Horton.

On Friday night, the town’s fire department and city staff were thanked at the Akron-Westfield baseball game.

As of Sunday night some road closures were in effect around Hawarden and Hudson, S.D. and one could see damage to railroad tracks near Hawarden.

In Hawarden, the river high was 27.92’ Tuesday breaking its record of 24.90 in 1993. Flood level is 15’.

A flood warning was in effect for the area but the best chance of rain this week was Wednesday.

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