South Dakota's governor has urged some residents to evacuate from three cities considered early trouble spots as officials brace for a prolonged period of Missouri River flooding.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard asked residents in threatened areas in the state capital of Pierre and neighboring Fort Pierre as well as residents of Dakota Dunes to evacuate by Thursday night. Daugaard's announcement was a request and not a mandatory evacuation, but law enforcement officials were going door-to-door Wednesday evening to tell residents about it.
Flooding is a concern as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases excess water from Missouri River dams after record rainfall across the northern Plains. Heavy runoff from melting Rocky Mountains' snow could soon compound the problem, and officials say flooding could last into July.
Protective levees being built around the three South Dakota levees were expected to reach above river levels, but some homes could still be threatened. Daugaard said 800 of the 1,100 homes in Dakota Dunes could be subject to flooding. About 2,000 people and 800 homes and businesses are threatened by flooding far upstream in Pierre, with several hundred more people in Fort Pierre's flood zone.
"As the water flow increases, we want to make sure we protect human life as we evaluate how the levees are doing, how fast the water is being released and whether the areas are going to be safe," Daugaard said.
Dump trucks and moving vans crowded the streets of Dakota Dunes on Wednesday, hauling in dirt to build up miles of levees protecting the small southeast South Dakota town and carrying away residents' possessions. The carefully planned community of 2,500 sprang up just a few decades ago with an 18-hole Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and a mix of corporate headquarters that includes Tyson Fresh Meats.
Meanwhile, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Wednesday asked the president to declare a major disaster in that flooded state, as a break in the weather allowed residents to dry out and prepare for another round of high water that could arrive in the coming weeks. And in Minot, N.D., residents were dealing with another rising waterway as officials ordered the evacuation along four miles of the Souris River.
It's the Army Corps' plans to increase the rate of water being released from Gavins Point Dam upstream of Dakota Dunes that is causing concern for the community situated at the junction of South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. The corps plans to gradually increase releases through this week before peaking in mid-June.
Dakota Dunes was born in 1988 as a 2,000-acre venture by an Iowa developer, and swelled by drawing people and business attracted to the state's absence of personal and corporate income taxes. Employees of companies such as computer maker Gateway eventually made their homes there and the area ranked as one of South Dakota's wealthiest. The nicest homes sport manicured lawns nearly as impeccable as the golf course, set near streets that carry names such as Augusta Circle, Royal Troon and Pebble Beach Drive.
Retirees Larry and Connie Chapman said they were among the first to move in. On Wednesday, they loaded belongings into trailers and vehicles, unsure when they would be back. The governor had cautioned people to be prepared to be out as long as two months due to all the water that has to come down the Missouri.
"There's nothing to say other than what's happened and why is history and there's no point dwelling on it," Connie Chapman said. "We'll move forward. We have a lot of faith."
Like many of the town's residential streets, the Chapmans' was crowded with cargo trailers, moving trucks, pickups and large semi-trailers. Traffic in and out was brisk as Highway Patrol troopers manned the main intersection to keep everyone moving, including the 70 trucks being used to bring dirt and manpower to work on the levee system. Two Blackhawk helicopters placed half-ton sandbags in areas that couldn't be reached by the vehicles.
Officials hope to have levee construction completed by Saturday, said Beth Hermanson, a spokeswoman at the state incident command center.
"That doesn't mean we'll be buttoned up and done ... but it's a target and we have a significant plan in place," she said.
Associated Press writers Chet Brokaw in Pierre, S.D., James MacPherson in Minot, N.D., and Stephen Dockery in Helena, Mont., contributed to this report.