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Des Moines River crests in Jackson, causes trouble all along river route

The Des Moines River spills into the Jackson baseball and softball fields along the river. Alyssa Sobotka / Forum News Service1 / 3
Gov. Mark Dayton pledges his support to Jackson and surrounding communities affected by the Des Moines River flooding. Alyssa Sobotka / Forum News Service2 / 3
Park equipment in Jackson's Ashley Park sits in a pool of Des Moines River water. Alyssa Sobotka / Forum News Service3 / 3

JACKSON, Minn. —The scene in Jackson in southwest Minnesota near the Iowa border on Monday, July 9, is similar to that of other southwest Minnesota communities drenched since multiple significant rainfall events upstream of the Des Moines River caused what's expected to be millions of dollars in damages.

The Des Moines River crested in Jackson, a city of about 3,300 residents along Interstate 90, at approximately 13.9 feet overnight Sunday into Monday and has begun to recede. However, Jackson officials think that the flood level is off by as much as three feet.

"Since they took the dam out, they've moved the sensor probably two to three times," Jackson Street Superintendent Phil Markman said of the possible discrepancy, since water levels were calculated during the last significant flooding event in 2010. "We're flirting with the 17-foot range."

The highest water level on record from 2010 is 16.97 feet.

Today, river water rushes underneath three bridges at about the same level since 2010, said Markman. Those structures have been unchanged, which is one example why Markman believes the tally is inaccurate.

Politicians and emergency response teams that visited Jackson on Monday would like to see that discrepancy corrected, as they prepare to advocate for financial disaster assistance from state and federal resources.

Among political leaders that visited Windom, Jackson and Blue Earth Monday included Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, along with local legislators and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly.

Farther upstream in Windom, near record flooding was also threatening the city of about 4,650 as parks were flooded, water was pouring into basements and most of the local golf course was underway.

All along the river that starts at Lake Shetek where torrential rainfalls last week started the flooding, farm fields are also under water causing significant damage.

The 525-mile river meanders through southwest Minnesota crossing into Iowa and by Des Moines before heading into the Mississippi River.

Also along the river, officials, public works personnel, first responders and residents were winning praise from the politicians.

"It's wonderful to see the human spirit rise in this sort of emergency," Dayton said.

As of Monday, Jackson County Emergency Manager Tawn Hall estimated flood damage had reached $430,000 throughout the county.

"I'd conservatively say it'll be at $750,000," she added.

Damage throughout the city was most visible at city parks. A concrete and sand barricade near the ballpark is all that separated the floodwaters from the ballpark to downtown Jackson, Jackson County Sheriff Shawn Haken said.

Assuming there's no other significant rain event, the downtown should be void of flood damage, Haken said.

Markman said as of Monday there had been minimal damage reported to residences and no known sewer backups.

Haken guessed the flood would be second to the Des Moines River flood event of 1969.

Kelly, the state's emergency management director, anticipated that representatives from Federal Emergency Management Agency would visit southwest Minnesota near the end of next week to complete a preliminary assessment of damages.

Kelly and other representatives present Monday pleaded that local officials — with the help from residents — document and photograph all damage related to flooding.

Kelly explained that as of Monday, it was unknown the most appropriate and best avenue to request flood assistance, but that the public would play a crucial role by reporting damages to local officials.