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Minnesota prepares for possible Red River Valley flooding

March 18, 2009

Minnesota prepares for possible Red River Valley flooding

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  March 18, 2009
Contact:    Brian McClung  (651) 296-0001

Governor announces partial activation of SEOC, formation of "Minnesota Prepares" 
 
Saint Paul - Governor Tim Pawlenty today announced that the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Saint Paul will be partially activated in response to increasing flood preparedness activities being undertaken by state emergency management officials, officials in counties adjacent to the Red River, the Army Corps of Engineers and others.

The Governor also directed Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Dan McElroy to organize "Minnesota Prepares," an effort that will include state agencies officials who work together as the Minnesota Recovers Task Force in response to a natural disaster. 

"The likelihood of flooding along the Red River is high.  We're taking steps now to make sure state and local partners are well-coordinated and prepared to take quick action to help Minnesotans who might be impacted," Governor Pawlenty said. "State emergency management coordinators have already been in contact with local officials to help identify impacts of potential flooding. It's important to have everyone working from the same page when an emergency strikes."

The National Weather Service said this week that the chances of major flooding along the Red River are high based on its latest forecast modeling. A greater than 90 percent chance of reaching major flood stage is predicted for Breckenridge/Wahpeton, Fargo/Moorhead, Grand Forks/East Grand Forks and Oslo.

The flood potential is due to a number of factors including the wettest six-month period on record for the Fargo and Grand Forks area, fall precipitation that increased soil moisture prior to freezing, and winter stream flows up to 300 percent above normal indicating limited storage in the system.

Governor Pawlenty also announced flood preparation activities his administration is undertaking:

  • The Department of Administration Division of Surplus Services is donating 200,000 sandbags for distribution to communities in need.

  • The Department of Corrections and county Sentencing to Service (STS) crews are filling sandbags today in Hallock and in other areas across the state as requested. STS crews have also filled sandbags and placed them in flood-prone areas around Thief River Falls this week.

  • Mn/DOT maintenance crews are thawing frozen culverts and storm drains this week to reduce the impact of minor local flooding. Area truck stations are stocking barricades and warning signs to notify drivers in areas where water seeps over the road.

  • The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is activating its internal Incident Command Team today to ensure the agency is fully able to help farmers and business operators protect themselves and their property from flood-related damage to food products and facilities, agricultural chemicals, feed, livestock, farm structures, and other infrastructure.  MDA field staff is in contact with food establishments such as grocery stores and food processing facilities, ag chemical facilities, and grain elevators.

  • Minnesota Management and Budget is advising state offices located in the flood-prone areas to make sure they have current emergency plans including procedures for employees prior to and during a flood. MMB is also advising that state offices move important documents, archives, essential records, film, photos, and anything else vital to the state agency off the ground to high shelves in waterproof containers.

  • The Minnesota Department of Commerce - Office of Energy Security reports that utilities are working to ensure a sufficient response to flood events.  The Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association is meeting today with utilities in the area to discuss preparations and customer communication regarding flooding. Utilities have mutual aid agreements in place to assist in providing utility service restoration when and where it is necessary.

  • The Minnesota Housing Flood Team is currently on alert and monitoring flood predictions for the Red River Valley.  The agency will collect and disseminate a list of available vacant housing units that can be utilized as emergency temporary housing for residents displaced by flooding. Minnesota Housing assists with loan funds to home owners and landlords to repair or replace their damaged homes.  In the past, the agency also provided administrative and technical support funds for the delivery of services and pay for housing studies, apartment searches and case management.

  • The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is asking food, beverage and lodging establishments in areas that may be subject to flooding to review their emergency plans. Those plans should include what to do with perishable food in the event of a power outage. Establishments should consider their inventory and plan on using refrigerated trucks or generators. MDH is also contacting labs in its northwest and west central district offices to be prepared for necessary testing activities related to the flooding.  MDH will also alert hospitals and nursing homes if they may be vulnerable to flooding.

  • The Minnesota Department of Human Services is making preparations to quickly provide Emergency Food Stamps and commodity distribution in the event of serious flooding.

  • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency emergency response team has been in contact with the area emergency managers and contractors to offer technical assistance.

  • The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is preparing to apply for a National Emergency Grant, which will help create and fund temporary employment to assist with clean-up following a flood event. In addition, DEED is preparing to offer Disaster Unemployment Assistance to individuals unable to work as a direct result of the flood. The Small Cities Development Program is identifying funding to assist communities with recovery.

  • The Department of Public Safety, Division of Homeland Security Emergency Management staff has conducted eight Disaster Response and Recovery Workshops statewide this year, and another six Flood Preparedness and Training Workshops with the Army Corps of Engineers, National Weather Service, DNR and the National Guard. 

Cities along the Red River have increased flood protection since the record flooding of 1997. For example:

  • Breckenridge has constructed a bypass channel to divert a large proportion of the Otter Tail River's flow downstream of the city and has installed additional diking. 

  • East Grand Forks has removed many of the homes impacted by the 1997 flooding and it has a new floodwall protecting the city.