After more than a week fighting the flooding waters of the Crow Wing River, a foot of new snow on the ground Wednesday morning was not a welcome sign for residents along the river.
The Crow Wing River, which starts in northern Wadena County and travels south toward Staples and through the cities of Motley and Pillager before emptying into the Mississippi River near Crow Wing State Park south of Baxter, crest more than 6 feet above its banks last week.
With water levels already high with the spring melt, a massive ice jam Thursday between Motley and Pillager forced water over roads, into nearby woods and around dozens of homes along the river.
Ted Sullivan, who lives about a half mile from the river, said the ice jam broke last weekend and the river has receded about 2 feet.
A walking bridge, left from the days when the old Pine Meadows property was a golf course, was surrounded by pine trees heavy with fresh snow Wednesday morning in Baxter.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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"But it still is unusually high," Sullivan said of the river. "That doesn't mean we are out of the woods yet."
Sullivan said part of the river remains ice covered. A flood warning remains in effect for the river until 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
The freshly fallen, pristine sticky snow, which is a snowman maker's delight, didn't worry Deb Hausman, a Staples resident who was busy sandbagging late last week with the help of volunteers to protect her home from the rising Crow Wing River. Hausman said the water receded about 2 feet before Tuesday's and Wednesday's snowfall.
In Wadena County, which declared a state of emergency on March 26, the situation is looking better - for now.
Sheriff Mike Carr said the water is down a foot to 2 feet. About 50 homes were threatened by the flooding rivers. Carr said he wasn't sure how many homes actually had water damage. Sandbags were protecting about 20 homes.
Carr met with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials Thursday. With the declaration of the state of emergency, the county became eligible for FEMA assistance. The county picked up the cost of sand and sandbags and should receive FEMA assistance.
Several inches of fresh snow covered the branches that lined Bishop's Creek Wednesday in Nisswa. The stream connects Gull and Round lakes. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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Without that help, Hausman said she would have had to bear the expense of sand and sandbags. The emergency declaration also opens the door so residents with damage may apply for low-interest loans.
For Wadena County, more expense is expected with significant road damage. The paved County Road 30 was washed away by flood waters. Carr said there were heavy currents and about a dozen roads will need repair. About 15 to 20 roads were closed off in Wadena County because of flood waters.
About 20,000 to 25,000 sandbags are around homes. Carr said they've learned it takes 1,500 sandbags to protect an average home. The county picked up an additional 40,000 sandbags.
Volunteers from Verndale and Staples schools and fire departments helped in sandbagging efforts. Many came with new found skills they picked up sandbagging in Fargo, N.D. Sixty to 70 people worked at any given residence working to keep the river at bay.
Area snow totals
Wadena - 14 inches.
Breezy Point - 12 inches.
Little Falls - 11.5 inches.
Pequot Lakes - 11 inches.
Pillager - 11 inches.
Leader - 10 inches.
Hackensack - 9.3 inches.
Walker - 9 inches.
Staples - 9 inches.
Brainerd - 8.5 inches.
Long Prairie - 6.7 inches.
Ironton - 5.5 inches.
Nisswa - 5.4 inches.
Onamia - 4.6 inches.
Source: National Weather Service and the DNR.
"They were a huge help," Carr said. "It's pretty amazing that amount of help you can get. It's just amazing. We're pretty fortunate we have good people we live around and everybody is willing to help out."
Carr said the rivers expanded to areas where flooding wasn't expected and he saw water in areas where he never witnessed it before. One resident was using a canoe to reach his home.
"It's a terrible thing for people," Carr said. "A lot of people don't have flood insurance."
The National Weather Service in Duluth has been keeping close tabs on the Crow Wing River, said Tom Lonka, weather service meteorologist.
While Tuesday's and Wednesday's snowfall was laden with water - about 10 inches of snow contains one inch of water - Lonka said there shouldn't be too much of an impact on area rivers because the snow will melt slowly.
High temperatures for the rest of the week and into the weekend will be in the upper 30s and low 40s.
"Rivers will remain high because the snow will be melting during the day but it will be dropping into the 20s during the night," Lonka said. "We don't expect any more major flooding issues."
The Long Prairie River, which feeds into the Crow Wing River, is no longer flooding, said Todd County Sheriff Peter Mikkelson.
The river crest last week, he said, flooding a few township and county roads and getting close to inundating Long Prairie Packing.
"Fortunately we've really had no major problems at all," Mikkelson said.
The snow, however, created a mess on area roads, Mikkelson said, with close to a foot in the northeast part of Todd County. Several crashes and vehicles in ditches were reported in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties and driving conditions were listed as difficult Wednesday morning by the Minnesota Department of Transportation because of snow and slush packed roadways.
The weather service reported 14 inches of snow in Wadena, 12 inches in Breezy Point, 11.5 inches in Little Falls and 11 inches in Pillager and Pequot Lakes.
As anyone who shoveled Wednesday morning would know, the snow from Tuesday's and Wednesday's winter storm was wet and heavy.
In Brainerd, 8.5 inches was measured at the DNR office. Mark Mortensen, DNR program forester, said the snow contained .71 inch of water. In Little Falls, the snowfall contained .84 inch of water.
"This is a lot of moisture content compared to the depth of snow we got," Mortensen said "This would be slightly above what we would consider normal."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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