South Dakota residents prepare to leave homes as Missouri River waters rise

High water due to snowmelt and spring rain could keep them from homes for two months
Monday, May 30, 2011 | 7:00 p.m. CDT; updated 11:38 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Jodi Owen, left, watches Saturday as Ken Kerfont steps over the sandbags they had been piling around their home in Fort Pierre, S.D., to protect against rising water from the nearby Missouri River. They continued to build up the sandbag wall even as water reached the barrier and hoped an emergency levee under construction could keep the water from rising higher.

PIERRE, S.D. — Residents of Dakota Dunes, a city in southeast South Dakota, were told on Monday to prepare to leave their homes by Thursday as the Missouri River continued to rise.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard stressed that no evacuation had been ordered, but the community's 2,500 residents were told to prepare for the worst.


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"Residents should plan to be away from their homes for as long as two months," said Eric Stasch, operations manager at Oahe Dam in north-central South Dakota.

Moving trucks had already become a common sight in the city over the weekend.

"We already got everything out of our basement. My dad and my uncle are ripping up the carpet right now," resident Jefferson Galvin told KMEG-TV on Sunday.

Many levees being built in the Pierre and Fort Pierre areas to protect public infrastructure also shield private property, but there is no guarantee that will be the case in Dakota Dunes, Stasch said. He and other officials also stressed that residents in any flood-threatened area should not assume that levees will be done in time or will hold against record dam releases from Missouri River reservoirs swollen by heavy spring snowmelt and rain.

New rainfall in the basin prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accelerate planned releases from Oahe Dam. The maximum of 150,000 cubic feet per second has not changed, but releases will reach that level by June 7. Earlier projections were for June 15. Daugaard said officials still believe they should finish levees in Pierre before releases reach the maximum.

Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill said on Monday that 800 homes and more than 2,000 people could be affected by flooding in her city, the state's capital.

"We're starting to see it in the parks system. You can see it going up over the banks, you can see it covering up bike paths," she said in an interview broadcast by KGFX radio. "In southeast Pierre it's ... coming up to the end of the golf course. In some of the backyards ... the water's coming up toward the houses."

Gill said the number of people and officials responding to help in the flood-fight efforts was "overwhelming." Among those helping are South Dakota National Guard soldiers, including some who were at annual training in Wyoming preparing for duty later this year in Afghanistan, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Maj. Gen. Timothy Reisch, the state Guard commander, said that by Tuesday the Guard presence should total more than 600 soldiers.

On Monday, Daugaardo called on all South Dakota residents to "help their neighbors."

"We've had no deaths as a consequence of this flooding. What we need to do is keep that record and work hard," he said. "South Dakotans are strong, self-reliant people, and we are all going to work with every fiber of our being to fight this flood."

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