Water invades Woonsocket

WOONSOCKET -- Residents of Woonsocket were joined by 100 National Guard soldiers and alternating groups of 50 inmates Thursday as they scrambled to respond to onrushing floodwater.

WOONSOCKET -- Residents of Woonsocket were joined by 100 National Guard soldiers and alternating groups of 50 inmates Thursday as they scrambled to respond to onrushing floodwater.

The National Weather Service said the cause of the flooding is Sand Creek, which runs north of Woonsocket and flows from west to east until it drains into the James River at Forestburg. That creek -- swollen by recent heavy rains -- is overflowing into drainage and railroad ditches and into to the north part of Woonsocket.

"It's bad all over," said Sanborn County Commissioner Jeff Ebersdorfer. "We can't pump it to North Dakota or Iowa, and the James River is full."

The soldiers from the 153rd Engineering Battalion and the inmates from the state Department of Corrections helped build sandbag walls to protect property from the water. In total, approximately 20,000 sandbags were distributed around the city. About 30 houses were affected by flooding either in yards, basements or both.

Gov. Mike Rounds traveled to Woonsocket on Wednesday evening to assess the flood threat and the need for state resources.


State and local officials gathered Thursday afternoon to formulate a strategy for diverting some of the floodwater.

"We are trying to figure out a way to remove the water from the north side of town," said Doug Hinkle, South Dakota Office of Emergency Management preparedness response team leader. "We want to pick the best option. If we remove (the water) up here and it damages things down south, that doesn't help anybody."

An emergency County Commission meeting was held Thursday afternoon to determine what could be done about the county roads and city flooding. Around 30 people attended the meeting. One of the proposed ideas was to cut a section out of 397th Avenue north of Woonsocket to alleviate flooding on the north edge of town, where it was most severe.

At the end of the nearly twohour meeting, where many frustrations about road conditions mounted, it was determined that several inches of gravel would be grated off 397th Avenue in an attempt to alleviate flooding problems. Today at noon, officials plan to meet again to determine if the water level has dropped and decide if a larger section of the road will need to be removed. In that event, the National Guard will be ready with a 20-meter bridge to span any gaps in the road. Meeting attendees urged the commission to advise no travel in Sanborn County.

People weren't the only ones affected by the flooding. A herd of cattle was moved from a flooded pasture on the east edge of town and herded down Highway 34 to higher ground. A couple of cattle, unwilling to go with the flow, found themselves in over their heads in water but later safely joined up with the herd.

Jo White, who has lived in Woonsocket for 23 years, found a few inches of water in her basement at 6 a.m. Wednesday, which quickly grew to a depth of 10 inches. Soon thereafter, a flurry of friends, family and volunteers helped her clean up and dry out.

"This is the highest that I've ever seen it," White said, standing in her basement.

White said that between 40 and 50 local volunteers came to her rescue Wednesday and stayed late into the evening. Thursday, her front yard was filled with Guard members sandbagging a perimeter around the house.


"We're just trying to keep things off the floor and keep things dry," she said. "We'll be working all night again."

Barb White, Jo's daughterin-law, who was helping with cleanup efforts Thursday, said that a lot of the water came from up near Alpena.

"They had gotten quite a bit more rain," White said. "Wednesday, right in the sump-pump hole, there was water rushing in. The pump just couldn't keep up."

Mike Gillispie, National Weather Service hydrologist in Sioux Falls, said the state Emergency Management Office contacted him Thursday about flooding in Woonsocket and inquired about estimates on rising creeks and sloughs. NWS has no gauges on Sand Creek, so he does not know how high it's running.

Another factor is that the James River at Forestburg is cresting at 18.1 feet, and its tributaries have nowhere for that water to drain into the James, Gillispie said.

"Once the water levels start dropping on the James River over the next few days, that's going to allow those tributary creeks to start dumping their water into the James," he said. "We should see water levels dropping off fairly quickly over the next two-tofour days on those tributary creeks."

Gillispie anticipated the James will start dropping this morning.

Woonsocket has 20 percent to 30 percent chances of rain today and Saturday, with a 50 percent chance Saturday night.


Gillispie said he thought rainfall would be scattered until Saturday, with an average of a quarter- to a half-inch that night. Some areas could get an inch or more of rain, he said.

The rainfall should not exacerbate flooding in Woonsocket, he said, noting the rate of evaporation is onethird to two-thirds of an inch per day.

-- Daily Republic reporter Melanie Brandert contributed to this report.

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