Part of a Minnesota home has plunged into the Blue Earth River as deadly Midwest flooding threatens the nearby Rapidan Dam

Part of a house perched on the edge of the Blue Earth River in Minnesota collapsed into raging waters as deadly flooding that hit the Midwest threatened the nearby Rapidan Dam, which was built in the early 1900s.

“A portion of the house on the property closest to the Rapidan Dam has been undercut enough to have fallen into the river,” Blue Earth County authorities said in a Facebook post Tuesday night.

At least two people are dead after days of severe storms and catastrophic flooding in the Upper Midwest inundated homes and forced evacuations. The Rapidan Dam, near the city of Mankato, was in “imminent failure condition,” the Blue Earth County government said Monday. The dam was still standing Wednesday morning.

Assessment and response efforts are underway as the area has seen significant damage and loss of infrastructure and property, authorities said Wednesday. As a result of the partial failure and raging waters, the river has swallowed a home, a power substation and power poles, a steel shipping container, county equipment and more, said Blue Earth County Administrator Robert Meyer.

Officials are monitoring activity downstream to ensure that there’s no further damage, Meyer said Wednesday. They’re concerned that erosion could impact the pier supporting the County Road 9 bridge, affecting the structural integrity of the bridge. The county will “explore mitigation options to ensure that the bridge remains as well as the dam,” Meyer said.

“As we watch the house that was on that cliffside and the erosion of the hillside there, I think it just goes to show how incredibly powerful that water is,” John Cunningham, assistant commissioner for the Department of Public Safety, said Wednesday at a news conference. “It’s a reminder of how important it is to stay away from any moving water.”

The stricken home at the river’s edge is owned by the family of Jenny Barnes, which has also owned the nearby Dam Store for 50 years, CNN affiliate WCCO reported. “It’s very close to the house. We had to evacuate this morning, get as much as we could out. All the freezers and such,” Barnes told WCCO Monday. “It’s my childhood. I grew up in the house, I grew up in the Dam Store. I’ve been there all my life.”

Water levels near Mankato have been holding steady for about a day and are expected to recede in the coming days and weeks, officials said Wednesday. - Ben Brewer/Reuters
Water levels near Mankato have been holding steady for about a day and are expected to recede in the coming days and weeks, officials said Wednesday. - Ben Brewer/Reuters

It was “inevitable” that the family would lose the house to the dangerous flooding, Barnes told CNN affiliate KARE. The family has experienced “tremendous loss and devastation,” said family spokesperson Louise Henderson at a news conference Wednesday.

The Dam Store, known for its homemade pies, has been in business since 1910 and owned by Barnes’ family since 1972.

“That’s our life, as well. That’s our business; that’s our livelihood. It’s everything to us,” Barnes told KARE. “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. And everybody pray that it doesn’t take the Dam Store.”

As of Wednesday, there was no flow of water going over the dam as the bulk of the water went around the west side of the dam, Meyer said at a news conference.

Minnesota officials urged people to stay away from the water.

“Having been in water rescue my entire life, these are some of the most difficult conditions I have ever seen,” Cunningham said.

Water levels peaked at 29.7 feet and have been holding steady for about 24 hours, Mankato City Manager Susan Arntz said Wednesday. Officials expect the river to recede to about 25.5 feet by Friday.

“Water is a powerful force,” Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said. “I think climate change is real, and we are experiencing the impacts of it here in Minnesota, all across the state.”

Flanagan said policy makers in the region need to focus on building climate resilient communities.

Blue Earth County officials are monitoring the dam, but widespread evacuation orders have not been issued. - Aaron Lavinsky/AP
Blue Earth County officials are monitoring the dam, but widespread evacuation orders have not been issued. - Aaron Lavinsky/AP

Rapidan Dam in a ‘state of disrepair’

The Rapidan Dam has been in a “state of disrepair” for years, according to a 2021 study.

“We do not know if it will totally fail or if it will remain in place, however, we determined it was necessary to issue this notification to advise downstream residents and the correct regulatory agencies and other local agencies,” the county said Monday. There were no plans for mass evacuations, authorities said Tuesday.

The Blue Earth River has cut around the west side of the dam, carrying debris and causing power outages, the county said Monday, noting that there was a “partial failure on the west abutment.”

The water flow rate at the dam peaked Monday and decreased slightly Tuesday, according to a news release from Blue Earth County emergency management officials. Authorities are continuing to monitor the dam and downstream impacts.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said dozens of homes in the town of Waterville, in Le Sueur County, were flooded up to the second floor.

The Rapidan Dam, which was completed in 1910, is owned by the county and is capable of generating 6 million watts of hydroelectric power. It’s about 70 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

Dams can break for a number of reasons, including overtopping due to flooding and structural failure, according to FEMA.

2021 report from Blue Earth County noted that regular flooding over the years, along with the “toll of time,” has caused significant damage to the dam. The report identified two solutions: repair or remove the dam. The county noted that both options have significant costs.

Flooding near South Dakota's Big Sioux River prompted water rescues Tuesday. - Josh Jurgens/AP
Flooding near South Dakota's Big Sioux River prompted water rescues Tuesday. - Josh Jurgens/AP

Deadly flooding in the Midwest

While authorities continue to monitor the dam in Minnesota, communities around the Midwest are dealing with the impacts of devastating flooding.

A man in his mid-70s died in Clay County, Iowa, while trying to drive across rapid floodwaters on Saturday, according to a spokesperson from the county sheriff’s office. The same day, an 87-year-old man died in a flood-related crash in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, according to the state highway patrol.

President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration for some parts of Iowa, where a levee failure Tuesday morning on the Little Sioux River prompted the evacuation of communities.

The city of Rodney was evacuated, and the city of Correctionville was closed to non-residents, according to officials. A flash flood warning was issued for Rodney, the nearby city of Smithland and other rural areas near the river, officials said Tuesday.

In South Dakota, water rescue efforts were underway Tuesday afternoon in Sioux City, where the Big Sioux River crested at 45 feet – 7.3 feet above record levels – prompting homes along the river to be evacuated Monday.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said one neighborhood in particular, McCook Lake, was in a “very dangerous situation. Whole homes have fallen” into McCook Lake, Noem said.

The neighborhood has uprooted trees, live power lines across roads and 100-foot drop-offs in places where roads were washed out, the governor said, urging residents to stay away from the area.

The intense rainfall that led to the flooding in the Midwest has stopped, though light rainfall is expected to return to some areas Thursday.

CNN’s Andy Rose, Amanda Musa, Christina Zdanowicz, Zoe Sottile, Joe Sutton and Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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