Fast work on levees to protect S. Dakota cities

Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Crews worked around the clock Tuesday on emergency levees intended to protect three South Dakota cities from the rising Missouri River as water from the northern Plains rolled downstream.

Residents of the upscale community of Dakota Dunes in southeastern South Dakota, below the final dam on the river, have been told to move their possessions to higher ground and be ready to leave their homes by Thursday, a day before releases from the dams are set to increase.

Several thousand people in the state capital of Pierre and the neighboring city of Fort Pierre also have been working day and night since late last week to lay sandbags around their homes and evacuate to safety.

Those forced to leave their homes could be unable to return for two months or more. No evacuation orders had been issued Tuesday, but many people in the three cities had already moved to safer places.

Emergency earthen levees are being built to 2 feet above the expected crest in all three towns, but South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard urged residents not to count on the levees to protect them.

"Citizens should assume the worst, that we will be unsuccessful in getting the levees raised in time or that the levees once raised will not hold," Daugaard said.

Daugaard said no deaths had been reported from flooding, and for now, the fight is on saving property.

"We're going to fight this flood with every fiber of our beings, and we'll do everything we can to minimize its impact," the Daugaard said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is increasing releases from five of the six dams on the Missouri River to drain water from record rains that fell in eastern Montana and Wyoming and western North Dakota and South Dakota in the past two weeks. Runoff from melting snow in the northern Rocky Mountains also is expected to be heavy.

Water levels are expected to rise by 8 feet in the Dakota Dunes area by June 14, when releases from Gavins Point Dam are expected to peak at 150,000 cubic feet a second, about double the current flow, Paul Boyd of the Corps of Engineers said.

The governor said nearly all of Dakota Dunes, a city of about 2,500, would be subject to flooding if the levee system does not hold.

Russ Riesen said he and his wife had already moved most of their possessions to an apartment they rented in nearby Sioux City, Iowa.

"We're going to sit it out up in the hills and hope everything works out," Riesen said. "With Mother Nature, you never know what's going to come."

Dakota Dunes, an upscale planned community established in 1990 in the extreme southeastern tip of South Dakota, is home to a number of companies. It was founded after computer-maker Gateway started operations in the area, but the company later moved to California.

Water levels are predicted to rise about 4 feet in Pierre and Fort Pierre, where about 2,000 people in Pierre and several hundred more in Fort Pierre could be affected. Water has already reached some houses in Fort Pierre.