Swollen river claims house next to Minnesota dam as flooding and extreme weather grip the Midwest

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A house that was teetering on the edge of an eroding riverbank near a Minnesota dam collapsed into the river in the latest jarring example of extreme weather gripping the upper Midwest.

Video shows the white frame house falling into the flood-swollen Blue Earth River near Mankato on Tuesday night. The Rapidan Dam's west abutment failed Monday, sending the river around the dam and eroding the bank where the home sat. The family had evacuated before the collapse.

“It’s been a very scary and hard situation,” Jenny Barnes, whose family owned the house and has run the nearby Dam Store for decades, told KARE-TV on Tuesday before the house fell into the river. She also was worried about the store.

“That’s our life, as well. That’s our business; that’s our livelihood. It’s everything to us,” Barnes said. “There’s no stopping it. It’s going to go where it wants to go. It’s going to take what it wants to take.”

Jessica Keech and her 11-year-old son watched part of the house fall into the river Tuesday night. They had often visited the area to see the dam and enjoy homemade pie from the Dam Store.

“It just kind of sucked it into the water. Just literally disappeared,” said Keech, of nearby New Ulm. “You didn’t see it go down the river at all. You didn’t see pieces of it anywhere.”

Blue Earth County officials said Wednesday that there were dramatic changes around the dam overnight, with the river cutting more widely and deeply into the bank, and they are concerned about the integrity of a nearby bridge over the river. After the flooding subsides, the county will be faced with deciding whether to make repairs to the dam or possibly remove it — with both options costing millions of dollars.

County Administrator Robert Meyer said the debris that went into the river since Monday included not only the home and its fence but also a power company substation, power poles, a propane tank, county playground equipment, a satellite toilet, a dumpster, a steel shipping container used for storage and “many, many trees.”

“There’s not any attempt to salvage anything,” Meyer said during a news conference at the dam.

President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to discuss the impacts to the Rapidan dam and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is already on the ground, White House officials said.

A swath through Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota has been under siege from flooding because of torrential rains since last week, while also suffering through a scorching heat wave. Up to 18 inches (46 centimeters) of rain have fallen in some areas, pushing some rivers to record levels. Hundreds of people were rescued, homes were damaged and at least two people died after driving in flooded areas.

Tornado warnings, flash flooding and large hail Tuesday night added insult to injury for some Midwesterners. The National Weather Service said several tornadoes were reported in Iowa and Nebraska. The service was assessing damage to some buildings, crops and trees to confirm whether tornadoes touched down. No major injuries were reported.

The weather service also extended flood warnings for multiple rivers in the region. On Tuesday, floodwaters breached levees in Iowa, creating dangerous conditions that prompted evacuations.

Preliminary information from the weather service shows the recent flooding brought record-high river levels at more than a dozen locations in South Dakota and Iowa, surpassing previous crests by an average of about 3.5 feet (0.5 meters).

In southeastern South Dakota, residents of Canton were cleaning up after getting 18 to 20 inches (46 to 51 centimeters) of rain in just 36 hours last week. A creek beside the 20 acres (8 hectares) owned by Lori Lems and her husband flooded the playground they’d built in their backyard for their grandchildren.

Lems, a 62-year-old former convenience store and wedding venue owner, said she’s lived in the town of 3,200 people all her life and never saw rain as intense as last week’s.

“We felt that we were in a hurricane-type of rain,” she said. “It was just unbelievable.”

Farther south, in North Sioux City, South Dakota, flooding collapsed utility poles and trees, and some homes were washed off their foundations. There was no water, sewer, gas or electrical service in that area, Union County Emergency Management said Tuesday in a Facebook post.

In the Sioux City, Iowa, area, water spilled over the Big Sioux River levee, damaging hundreds of homes, officials estimated. And the local wastewater treatment plant has been so overwhelmed by the floodwaters that officials say they're having to dump about a million gallons (3.8 million liters) of untreated sewage per day into the Missouri River.

Numerous roads were closed because of the flooding, including Interstates 29 and 680 in Iowa near the Nebraska line.

To the east in Iowa, towns were bracing for floodwaters. The west fork of the Des Moines River was expected to crest at nearly 17 feet (5 meters) in Humboldt overnight into Thursday. About 200 homes and 60 businesses in Humboldt could be affected, and about 68,000 sandbags have been deployed, officials said.

In the coming days, southeastern Nebraska and northwestern Missouri are expected to start to see the downstream effects of devastating flooding in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. Many streams and rivers may not crest until later this week. The Missouri will crest at Omaha on Thursday, said Kevin Low, a weather service hydrologist.


Collins reported from Hartford, Connecticut. Associated Press Writers Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.


This story has corrected the name the river where the house collapsed. It is the Blue Earth River, not the Big Earth River.