Midwestern Flooding Causes Havoc: Bridges Collapse and Evacuations

Heavy rains in the Midwest have led to catastrophic flooding, collapsing a major railroad bridge, testing a dam's integrity, and forcing evacuations as temperatures soar.

Published June 25, 2024 - 00:06am

4 minutes read
United States

Image recovered from washingtontimes.com

Flooding in the Midwestern U.S. has wreaked havoc, leading to the collapse of a railroad bridge and testing the strength of a dam after days of relentless heavy rains that have forced hundreds of people to evacuate or be rescued from rising waters. The devastating floods have added to the misery in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota, which are also grappling with a stubborn heat wave pushing temperatures close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in some affected areas.

The flooding impacts over 3 million residents across a vast region stretching from Omaha, Nebraska, to St. Paul, Minnesota. Forecasts predict further rainfall, and many streams may not crest until later this week as floodwaters slowly drain through an intricate network of rivers to the Missouri and Mississippi. Over the past several days, the floods have caused significant infrastructure damage, including the collapse of a railroad bridge, and have shuttered businesses, necessitated the evacuation of hospitals and nursing homes, and left towns without power or safe drinking water.

Aiden Engelkes, a resident of Spencer, Iowa, lamented the loss of personal belongings due to flooding that surpassed a record set in 1953. He expressed concern for his friends, who also lost their possessions. In northwestern Iowa, Engelkes experienced first-hand the chaos of evacuation, waiting seven hours in a fourth-floor apartment for rescue, while his SUV submerged in floodwaters.

Further compounding the crisis, the Rapidan Dam on the Blue Earth River outside Mankato, Minnesota, faced 'imminent failure' due to debris blockage. However, pressure relief from erosive water flow on the dam's western side has allowed it to stay intact for now. Only two residences downstream have voluntarily evacuated amidst the looming threat.

Transportation infrastructure has also been severely impacted. A significant setback occurred when a railroad bridge connecting North Sioux City, South Dakota, with Sioux City, Iowa, collapsed into the Big Sioux River. No injuries were reported from the collapse, and the bridge's owner, BNSF Railway, had proactively ceased operations on it amid the flooding. Emergency services and state transportation departments have built berms and taken extensive measures to control floodwaters and mitigate further damage.

The collapse of the bridge has implications beyond immediate safety and transportation. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem highlighted the bridge's critical role as the main rail link from her state into Iowa. The partial submersion and structural damage to the steel bridge illustrate the severe impact of these environmental conditions on essential infrastructure.

Evacuations and rescues have been ongoing. In Spencer, Iowa, large boats facilitated the extraction of nearly 70 individuals, including Engelkes and his girlfriend, who could only take a few personal items and their cats. In Rock Valley, Iowa, Deb Kempema lost her home decor store, 'First Impressions,' to flooding from a levee break, a poignant example of the widespread destruction of local businesses.

Further west, South Dakota officials reported one fatality related to the flooding. In addition to immediate impacts, concerns grow over long-term recovery challenges. President Joe Biden was briefed on the flooding in Iowa, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has deployed personnel to assist.

This natural disaster has prompted conservation officers in Iowa to conduct extensive water rescues, including evacuating families with children and individuals with disabilities. The local sheriff's office in Mankato noted continuous erosion at the Rapidan Dam site, raising concerns over potential property damage worth millions of dollars, highlighting the broader financial implications of infrastructure repair and removal.

Despite the widespread flooding, power outages remain relatively minor across the affected states, though localized disruptions persist. In communities like Correctionville, Iowa, and Rock Valley, water damage to power substations caused temporary outages, underscoring the fragility of critical infrastructure in such extreme weather events.

The heavy rains, which delivered up to eight times the average monthly rainfall in some regions, have brought unprecedented challenges to local emergency services, communities, and the wider Midwestern region. The coordination of rescue efforts and resource allocation continues to be a focal point of the response strategy, with National Guard troops playing a significant role in supporting affected civilians.

As the Midwest braces for ongoing turbulent weather, the combined forces of governmental, local, and volunteer efforts remain crucial in addressing immediate dangers and laying the groundwork for the region's recovery and resilience in the face of continuous climatic adversities.


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