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Flood Destruction

October 2, 2011, 10:06 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Flood Destruction
PIERRE, SD - It's been more than four months since the Army Corps of Engineers started releasing record-amounts of water out of the dams on the Missouri River.

The water devastated hundreds of homes and roads, and damaged critical infrastructure all across South Dakota.

And just below the Oahe Dam, the cities of Pierre and Fort Pierre, took some of the most direct hits from the flooding.

If you want to see just how severe the summer flooding of 2011 was you don't have to look any further than the homes on Frontier Road north of Fort Pierre.

"Do I want to move back? Of course I want to move back, but it has to be under the right circumstances financially for myself and family, and for all of our neighbors to make sense of it," Frontier Road homeowner Merle Scheiber said.

Scheiber is one of the dozens of homeowners facing an uncertain future after the floodwaters went down a few weeks ago. Of the 25 homes in the Frontier Road development, only a handful have moved back in, three homes have already been condemned and Scheiber's home is one of a few that has been deemed unsafe to live in.

"We're trying to ascertain if our homes will be salvageable at this particular point or not," Scheiber said.

That's because just two months ago he was walking around his home waist deep in the Missouri River. The water caused mold to crawl up all the walls and destroyed almost everything on the first floor. Now, Scheiber has ripped everything out and will wait several months to see how the home holds up.

"We're trying to winterize our home by tearing out the existing mold, tearing out the infrastructure that needs to go because it has settled or moved, and making a determination next spring if we can move back into our homes or not. It's just beginning," Scheiber said.

Across the river in Pierre it's the same story. The work is just beginning on repairing the more than two dozen sink holes and multiple sewer lines that have collapsed since the water has gone down.

"We've got about 26 sink holes in Pierre right now. Some of them are pretty major, anywhere from the size of a basketball to some that would swallow a pick-up," Pierre City Administrator Leon Schochenmaier said.

Schochenmaier and the rest of the city workers know the long-road that lies ahead to fix up the damaged infrastructure. One of the areas that have the most damage is the causeway that connected Steamboat Park to LaFramboise Island where there are wells that supply the city's drinking water.

"Out there we have our four largest city wells and they can't function without that causeway. We have our electric and water lines going through the causeway, so that causeway has to be repaired and replaced before we get those four wells up and running for next year." Schochenmaier said.

Now that the water has gone down you can see just how severe the damage is. And it's going to take a lot of time and money to repair all this. Officials say in the city of Pierre alone it's going to take five years to get everything back to where it was before the flood hit.

"We base that on communications with people in Grand Forks, people in Fargo and Moorhead that have gone through this before. They have all said plan on five years because it will take every bit of that time," Schochenmaier said.

And the city estimates it will take more than $16 million for all of the recovery efforts -- but how the cost is covered is unknown.

"Our budget is only set up to handle the day-to-day operation of things, so we're going to have to depend somewhat on reserves, somewhat on FEMA, and somewhat we don't know how it's going to get funded. So, it's a very challenging budget issue," Schochenmaier said.

The massive amounts of time and money it will take to recover from the flood are also putting a strain on the devastated homeowners on Frontier Road. FEMA has provided money for individual homeowners here, but the maximum amount given out is $30,000.

"The fireplace, I have to tear everything off down from the mantle," Scheiber said.

Scheiber says estimates to repair his home are going to be at least $85,000.

"FEMA has criteria, not everyone gets the $30,200, that is the maximum. As you can see if you stand in this home here it's pretty much destroyed on the inside and I didn't get the full amount," Scheiber said.

And if his family is ever able to move back into the home again it will be at least another year.

"My wife said will we be in there by Christmas? I said not in 2011, maybe not in 2012 we'll be in by Christmas time," Scheiber said.

That's why this flood that lasted all summer is going to continue to have an affect on the cities, towns and homes up and down the river for years to come.

"Yes, the floodwaters have receded, it's over but a lot, a lot of work is just beginning," Scheiber said.

A beginning, at the end of the most devastating flood South Dakota has seen.

Pierre city officials say they won't be able to get all the sinkholes fixed before winter, so they'll most likely fill them with gravel so they can at least plow the streets this winter.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
A misspelling was corrected in this story.

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