Historic flooding impacts Humboldt County

The east fork of the Des Moines River crested at nearly 22 feet and flooded Dakota City park on Monday, June 24. This image was taken inside the park's entryway, looking east at the bridge, which was closed due to high water. The west fork of the river is expected to crest on Wednesday afternoon, June 26, just under 17 feet. Flood stage is 10 feet. Independent photo by Kylie Portz.


Humboldt County is preparing for the worst in what could be flooding of historic proportions.
Heavy rains in far northern and northwest Iowa, along with Minnesota and even South Dakota, have pushed the Des Moines River beyond its banks as the water surges south.
“The west fork of the Des Moines River is going to crest at 16.8 feet on Wednesday, June 26, 1 p.m.,” Humboldt County Emergency Management Coordinator Kyle Bissell said at a press conference at noon on Monday, June 24, noting the river was at 12.92 at that time. It is expected to surpass records set in 1969 and 1993. The 1969 all-time high is 15-feet, 4-inches.
“The east fork of the Des Moines River is nearing its crest. It will crest officially at 21-feet nine-inches at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 24. The east fork crested earlier at Algona than they had anticipated, so that means good news for us. The water will be past us,” Bissell said.
“That way we can start the recovery of the roadways in the county. And we’re looking mostly roads in the northern and eastern parts of the county,” Bissell said.
“We also learned we will be getting a second crest in the west fork at some point, but we don’t know when,” Bissell said. “That second crest will be lower than the first crest. The reason for that is because we have a lot of water coming down from Minnesota."
“If we get a ton of rain in the next two days, that water level could go up. If we don’t, then it could go down, but we’ll have to rely on the National Weather Service for that,” Bissell said.
“We held a meeting with a lot of the stakeholders in the county to talk about a gameplan for the upcoming flooding,” Bissell said.
A flood warning was issued last Friday. Bissell took action and coordinated an effort for residents to show up at the secondary roads office, located at 2221 220th Street, Humboldt. Community members, including a large number of youth who are involved with the Humboldt High School athletic teams, showed up to fill sand bags.
Bissell then directed officials to begin sandbagging high-risk flood areas in the community, in particular, the south part of town near the city recycling center, along with other areas along the west fork in western Humboldt.
“Earlier today I met with business owners and stakeholders to come up with a large plan,” Bissell said.

“We are asking community groups and individuals to go out to the secondary roads location to begin filling sand bags. We have over 19,000 sand bags available and I can possibly tie it into 40,000 more,” Bissell said. “We have a lot of sand bags available.”
“We are asking people to get out there and help us out. We have a director out there to guide people to where they need to be to help set up a pattern to fill sand bags,” Bissell said.
“Another thing we have taken care of today is we have shock levels (measurements) all over town. We continue to shoot those levels at 17 feet to show the public that this is where the water could conceivably be at 17 feet. We don’t know for sure because we have never seen this kind of flood before,” Bissell said, noting the highest flood mark in Humboldt was reached on April 14, 1969, surpassing the high marks set in July of 1993.
“Were some of these businesses or homes even here in 1969? We don’t know, so we don’t know how the flood will look in those impacted areas,” Bissell said.
“Some of the places that we have identified as having a lot of water, we are beginning to protect those areas. A dike is being built down by the recycling center to abate some of the water that could go down those south streets and also protect some of our critical infrastructures,” Bissell said. “You will see dikes being built around houses. Those are 0ngoing so we can get as much property saved as possible.”
“We’ve met with the hospital and business owners to make sure they have the information they need to continue business because business continuity is a huge thing,” Bissell said. “Just like continuity of government, when people see businesses open, that’s hope. If a business is closed for an extended period of time, that impacts everyone.”
“The campgrounds have been evacuated on the lower Sheldon Park levels and all of Dakota City’s campground is closed. All of those people have been evacuated to safety. Rutland is evacuating people as well from their campground. In Bradgate, we are working with officials there, as well as bringing in the army corps of engineers to identify any kind of stresses or issues with the trestle bridge north of town, the Three Rivers Trail bridge, which right now is acting as a dam,” Bissell said. “There is so much debris backed up behind it that is creating a dam. Water is flowing through but it is also dissipating out, which helps. We are sandbagging in Bradgate.”

Gas, electricity
“We have a map where homes and businesses may have to have their services shut off. Their gas and their power. We are in a situation now where we have notified people who may be impacted if this does happen,” Bissell said.
“The reason, obviously, safety. Electricity and water don’t mix and we don’t want any kind of explosion. Mid-American Energy is on the ball with that. They will look at close off the gas at West River Drive first. That’s their main target. Following second would be their electricity, but they want to hold off on that for as long as possible,” Bissell said.

Recreation center to serve as cooling center
Cole Bockelmann, Humboldt City Administrator, says the recreation center in town will be the official cooling center starting at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25.

Animal shelter
Miranda Peterson, who leads Moffitt Animal Shelter in Humboldt, says secondary shelter locations have been established in case of evacuation.
“We can come out to your house and help get your pet to safety and take care of them,” Peterson said. “A FEMA trailer will be coming down that can hold a lot of animal supplies.”
“We have a lot of people who have stepped up and agreed to take large animals and pets who may need temporary shelter,” Peterson said. “We have facilities and food available at no charge to provide for any displaced pets and large animals. A community response plan is in place to help people find missing animals.”
“This is a great community. Make sure we check on our neighbors. Make sure they are in good shape. Let’s take care of each other. People wishing to make donations to the shelter can contact us through our Facebook messenger page or text us at 515-204-0320,” Peterson said.

Michelle Sleiter, administrator at Humboldt County Memorial Hospital, urges anyone who has to evacuate quickly to place their vital medicine or equipment into a bag.
“If people are at home and they are going to start losing power, if you need power for medical reasons, we want to hear from you,” Sleiter said. “We will help them maintain whatever equipment they need to have.”
“If people who need us lose access to us, we have a secondary medical location set up. The hospital itself should be high enough that a flood wouldn’t impact our facility. We are prepped with generators should we lose power,” Sleiter said. "We encourage people to gather their necessary medicine and medical supplies in a 'go bag' and have it ready if they have to evacuate."

Law enforcement
Cory Lampe of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department encouraged people to communicate if they self-evacuate.
“Once people find out Humboldt is getting flooding, we will likely get inundated by out-of-town family members wanting us to check on their loved ones. We want to make sure to stress to people who live in Humboldt that if they do choose to self-evacuate, make sure they have expressed that to their family members,” Lampe said. “Make sure they verbalize that to their family members.”
“If people do leave and we have to start searching, leave some sort of sign on the door or something saying they are not home so we don’t have to waste any time searching for them,” Lampe said.
Bissell said he already has secured commitments from fire departments willing to help search door to door for people who are not accounted for.
Humboldt Police Chief Joel Sanders encourages onlookers to stay away.
“Unless you are there to help or have a need to be there, please stay out of that area. We have one area today where residents are trying to prepare their homes and there are so many people gawking and driving around, it’s hindering their ability to make their own homes safe,” Sanders said.
“This river is moving unbelievably fast right now. It won’t take much to suck somebody in and pull them down. Stay away from the river,” Sanders said.
“Do not drive through standing water. There could be a manhole that’s missing. Stay off the road if it is flooded. Finally, if you have to be out for some reason, make sure your cell phone is charged and ready to go,” Sanders said. “Stay away from the flooded areas.”
Lampe and Sanders both encourage people to NOT call the dispatch if water is filling in their basement. Only call the dispatch (911) if you are in danger or have such an emergency requiring medical attention or need to be rescued.

Other resources
Bissell says other resources are available to help with rescues if needed. Boats are available for emergency medical services.

Humboldt city utilities will not be disrupted
Cole Bockelmann, Humboldt City Administrator, says he does not expect any disruption to the city’s utility services.
“Our water system has a flood wall right by the main plant area so we don’t expect any impact on our water service,” Bockelmann said.
“We are monitoring the waste water services very closely and we are not expecting any flooding to overtop the lift station down by the recycling center. We have several feet of wiggle room,” Bockelmann said.
“As of right now, we feel we can keep up. We have two brand new pumps as part of our recent wastewater plant upgrade. We don’t anticipate anything happening, but if that changes, we will impact the community. We feel pretty good about where we are at today,” Bockelmann said.

Alissa O'Connor, Humboldt County Economic Development Director, says an official with the Small Business Development Center will be in Humboldt for a meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 26, to answer questions. O'Connor says businesses have already begun sandbagging efforts around their buildings. Some have already closed down in anticipation of the flood. Employees have been helping with sandbagging efforts.

Officials encourage the public to tune out misinformation and rumors being spread on social media. The public should be getting information provided by the city or the Humboldt County Law Enforcement Center.

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