WYSO

S.D. Floodwaters Will Rise When Corps Opens Dams

Originally published on June 6, 2011 3:51 pm

Floodwaters around the South Dakota capital of Pierre are rising and they're about to get much higher. The dams along the Missouri River can't hold back a massive surge of water spurred by record rains in Montana.

The Army Corps of Engineers is about to open those dams to record flows. Residents are hoping that temporary levees will keep them from losing their homes and businesses.

In this instance, there is an advantage to having a mobile home. If your neighborhood is about to flood, just pull up a truck and move the house — unless, that is, your trailer gets stuck in the mud.

The rear wheels of a mobile home are mired in a deep muck, and while the movers are using both a backhoe and a truck, this house isn't budging. The mud this trailer is stuck in is wet with Missouri River water.

"Just a few days ago the water was here, up above our knees," says Connie Cross. "We moved our furniture out, just look at me, I'm short so it was above my knees."

Cross and her neighbors at Ricketts Trailer Court in Fort Pierre have already seen high water. It receded after a temporary levee was built a few days ago. But Cross is among 2,000 residents in this area who could loose their homes if the levees fail.

Cross wants to mover her trailer out of the area, but her neighbor's stuck trailer is blocking her exit.

"I didn't have a chance to get the trailer out cause the water was already on the ground," Cross says.

Other Fort Pierre residents like Jeri Wieczorek are just hoping that this flood won't leave them homeless.

"Living out of the van right now," Wieczorek laughs. "It's very frustrating, just the unknown, I guess."

Wieczorek has stacked up about 2 feet of sandbags around her Fort Pierre home. She and her children have taken all the valuables out of the house and are looking for a place to live. They're told they may not be let back in to their home for two months while the flooding subsides.

"I'm evacuating from my house and how long do I need to be out," Wieczorek asks. "I don't know when, where I'm going for certain, you know me and the kids. And friends here in town have said that I could move in with them or stay with them for a bit."

Some who live here worry that things are about to get worse. The Army Corps is about to drastically increase the flow out of the Oahe Dam just upstream. Otherwise it would overflow. Soon the Missouri River here could see almost twice the flow it has now.

Jan Harkless is the Fire Chief in the nearby town of Blunt. He came to Pierre to help his friends fill and stack sandbags. Ten years ago his house was destroyed by flooding.

"I think people should pray for these people," Harkless says.

His eyes get watery as he looks across the rising waters of the Missouri River.

"There is going to be people, not only out of their home, they might not even have a job," Harkless says. "The destitute that's coming, I don't know. I think there is going to be some impact here that nobody has realized yet."

Back at Ricketts Trailer Court, the mobile home is still stuck in the mud and the movers are off to find a bigger tractor.

Connie Cross will have to wait a while longer before her mobile home can be moved out. Cross says if she can get her trailer moved in time, she'll put it on a bluff far above the Missouri River.

After this flood, she won't be the only one looking for higher ground.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Flood waters around South Dakota's capital of Pierre are rising and are about to get even higher. The dams along the Missouri River can't hold back a massive surge of water - the result of record rains over in Montana. The Army Corps of Engineers is about to open those dams. Charles Michael Ray of South Dakota Public Broadcasting has this report on the people there trying to save their homes and businesses.

CHARLES MICHAEL RAY: There are advantages to having a mobile home. If your neighborhood is about to flood, you just pull up a truck and move the house - unless, that is, your trailer gets stuck in the mud.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE REVVING)

MICHAEL RAY: That's what's happening to this trailer. The rear wheels of this mobile home are mired in a deep muck, and the movers are using both a backhoe and a truck, but this house isn't budging. The mud this trailer is stuck in is wet with Missouri River water.

CONNIE CROSS: Unidentified Person: Up above our knees.

CROSS: Yeah. We moved my furniture out. And look at me. I'm short, so it was above my knees.

MICHAEL RAY: Connie Cross and her neighbors at Ricketts Trailer Court in Fort Pierre, South Dakota have already seen high water. It receded after a temporary levee was built a few days ago. But Cross is among 2,000 residents in this area who could lose their homes if the levees fail. So Cross wants to pull her trailer out, but her neighbor's trailer that's stuck in the mud is blocking her exit.

CROSS: Yeah, so I didn't have a chance, I didn't have a chance to get the trailer out, 'cause the water was already on the ground.

MICHAEL RAY: Other Fort Pierre residents like Jeri Wieczorek are just hoping that this flood won't leave them homeless.

JERI WIECZOREK: So living out of the van right now. Very frustrating, yeah, just the unknown, I guess.

MICHAEL RAY: Wieczorek has stacked up about two feet of sandbags around her Fort Pierre home. She and her children have taken all the valuables out of the house and they're now looking for a place to live. They're told they may not be let back into their home for two months while the flooding subsides.

WIECZOREK: Now I'm evacuated from my house and how long do I need to be out. I don't know when, where I'm going for certain, where, you know, me and the kids. And friends here in town have said that, you know, I could move in with them or stay with them for a bit, you know.

MICHAEL RAY: Jan Harkless is the fire chief in the nearby town of Blunt. He came to Pierre to help his friends fill and stack sandbags. Ten years ago his house was destroyed by flooding. Harkless says he has real empathy for those here.

JAN HARKLESS: I think people should pray for these people.

MICHAEL RAY: Harkless's eyes get watery as he looks out across the rising waters of the Missouri River.

HARKLESS: There's going to be people that are not even out(ph) of their home, they might not even have a job. You know, it's just, it's terrible. The destitute that's coming, it's - I don't know. I think there is going to be some impact here that nobody has realized yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE REVVING)

MICHAEL RAY: For NPR News, I'm Charles Michael Ray in Pierre, South Dakota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.