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Associated Press, Published June 06 2011

Backup levee in works in South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of a backup levee Sunday to protect the town of Dakota Dunes in southeast South Dakota from the fast-rising Missouri River.

Corps engineer LeeJay Templeton said the 1.4-mile-long secondary levee is slated to be completed by Thursday. The earthen dike is being placed as insurance against increased releases at Gavin’s Point Dam upstream from Dakota Dunes, he said.

The Missouri River was expected to rise about 8 feet to 1,098 feet above sea level by June 14 in the city of about 2,500 people, some of whom have evacuated ahead of the planned crest. Officials said construction of the primary levee is still under way to protect the city 2 feet beyond the projected high level.

Residents of South Dakota and North Dakota who live along the Missouri River are bracing for record dam releases by the corps to drain the waterway, swollen from rain and melting snow upstream.

A planned mandatory evacuation of some Bismarck neighborhoods was delayed Sunday after officials said conditions appeared stable. Bismarck Mayor John Warford cautioned residents that it will be a long haul.

“Hang in there. Keep your spirits high. This is a marathon,” Warford said.

Releases were increased to record levels Friday on Oahe Dam a few miles upstream from Pierre and neighboring Fort Pierre, causing the river to rise nearly 2 feet by Sunday, said Eric Stasch, the dam’s operations manager.

Stasch said the Missouri River’s water level is above flood stage for the first time since the dam was completed in the late 1950s.

The corps is planning increased releases through Tuesday that would top the river out at a projected 1,434 feet above sea level, or 2 feet below the earthen levees.

Trucks heavy with loads of dirt and sandbags continued to rumble through Pierre and Fort Pierre on Sunday to provide material to shore up areas of the cities that might need additional protection.

Officials said nearly all of the approximately 3,000 people living in flood-prone areas had voluntarily evacuated by the weekend. South Dakota National Guard soldiers monitored levees in town, and law enforcement officers patrolled neighborhoods where residents had left.

Eddie Ruiz, a cook at a Mexican restaurant in Pierre, was outside the business Sunday checking sandbags that had been placed around the restaurant to protect it. He said he and his wife and two young children already had to abandon their home by the river.

Ruiz said they left nearly a week ago and are now staying in an apartment on higher ground. The move cost him about $1,400.

“This water is terrible, but my kids and wife are safe,” he said. Their plan is to return home once the waters recede.

Sharon Williams, who lives a block from the swollen river in Pierre, walked her dog, Button, on Sunday near her apartment. She’s lived in the city for 40 years and this is the highest she’s seen the water.

But she said she’s not worried.

She packed her bags, however, in case the water breached the levee near her home.

“I guess I’m just bull-headed,” she said. “I’m not going to move out unless they make me.”

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