Dayton declares state emergency in 36 counties

Flooding, tornadoes cause extensive damage

Sloane Martin
July 05, 2018 - 6:36 am

Photo courtesy New Ulm MN Police


   Gov. Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency Thursday in response to severe weather in the past month that has caused flooding and property damage across much of Minnesota.

   Dayton's order applies to 36 counties and the Red Lake Indian Reservation. It cited a persistent weather pattern since June 9 that has generated a series of severe summer storms packing torrential rains, high winds and tornadoes, resulting in flash flooding.  The governor's order directed state agencies to continue to assist affected local governments in responding to and recovering from the effects of the storms.

   Big storms this week alone dumped 8 to 10 inches of rain in Murray, Brown, Redwood and Cottonwood counties of southern Minnesota, where flood warnings remain in place along several rivers and streams. While the Cottonwood River is starting to recede in Lamberton, it's been rising rapidly in New Ulm, where it has already reached major flood stage and was forecast to crest Friday.

   Brown County evacuated an apartment complex in Springfield because of the rapidly rising water levels in the Cottonwood River. County officials said there had been no injuries. Displaced residents were placed in housing by the American Red Cross or were staying with relatives.

   The Cottonwood flows into the Minnesota River, which had been falling but is now forecast to rise rapidly on its way toward crests this weekend or early next week in Mankato, Henderson and Jordan.

   Meanwhile, the northern Minnesota city of Bemidji is cleaning up the damage from a Fourth of July tornado. The National Weather Service said the EF1 tornado touched down just west of Bemidji State University. It packed winds of 100 mph and caused significant damage to buildings and trees during its minute on the ground. No one was injured.

Around eight to 10 inches of rain fell in parts of the region overnight Tuesday, including Murray County. County spokesperson Cristy Riley said the situation got worse Wednesday with heavy morning downpours.

"We were so saturated already," she said, "that that additional rain has just flooded everything."

It's taking a toll on summer recreation. Without people on swollen lakes and officials having to shut down many popular parks and recreation areas, she says it will take weeks to assess the economic losses.

"We've had a lot of infrastructure issues: bridges, water over them, roads," she said. "It could be weeks before we know what the final damage assessment will be because that water just isn't receding."

Some roads remain closed in the region due to flooding. Officials in Brown County have been keeping an eye on the Cottonwood River.

Weather did affect Fourth of July plans in other parts of the state. Duluth is holding its fireworks celebration Thursday because of Wednesday's threat of severe thunderstorms. 

In Beltrami County officials say a tornado knocked down trees and power lines in Bemidji and damaged garages early Wednesday morning. Peak winds of 100 miles per hour were measured just west of the Bemidji State campus.

Law enforcement officials caution drivers to never drive through flooded areas because you cannot determine how deep the water is.

The Associated Press contributed to this story