West River Flooding Update

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Families are stranded, roads are washed out, and there is still no word on federal money coming to help. The western half of South Dakota is experiencing the same, if not worse conditions, as people in the east.

Officials expect a dam in western South Dakota to fail and are advising area residents as a precaution. A small hole in the Quinn Dam is growing and now measures about 3 feet by 4 feet.  Officials say residents in the small town of Quinn could be cut off, but there are no evacuations.

Local officials us a glimpse of what this side of the state is going through right now, and what they’re afraid of in the next few days.

Between multiple blizzards and now rapid snow melt, people out west are facing a crisis. We reached out to a few local officials to find out where they’re struggling most. He tells me his family has been stranded at home for days, and that’s pretty common for everyone in his area.

Roads are so washed out, they’re creating dangerous conditions. Schomp says the Bennett County Elementary School is operating with low staff numbers and fewer students.

A photo from the Oglala Sioux Tribe Emergency Management page shows just how bad the rural roads are. County crews have been trying to reach people in need of medical assistance, but the roads are too soft to get around.

Schomp says the cost of this damage could be the most devastating for the area. While they are hoping for FEMA funds, if those are approved for the state, fixing all the infrastructure will be expensive. One washed out culvert could cost up to 50-thousand dollars, according to Schomp.

When we reached out to Governor Kristi Noem’s office for information on whether or not the governor will be requesting an Emergency Declaration for the state, we received this statement:

The President did approve expedited declarations for NE and IA. FEMA does that when the destruction is so widespread that it’s a definite situation where a significant disaster has occurred.  South Dakota definitely has significant damages; however not catastrophic to the levels NE and IA have seen where an expedited declaration is necessary. SD OEM remains in contact with FEMA officials and there is a FEMA rep in the State EOC as well.  FEMA agrees that the SD incident period remains open and until this latest round of flooding from snow melt is over it will remain an ongoing incident.

SD is required to submit a declaration request within 30 days of the END of the incident period, therefore our clock has not started yet because our incident period is still ongoing. Once the incident period comes to an end we will ensure a preliminary damage assessment is conducted jointly with FEMA, state and local officials.  We coordinate these local actions with county government and it generally takes a full week to complete, especially given the number of counties impacted for this disaster.  This takes place after the counties have identified all their damage and requested the assessment. SD will then determine per the overall damage assessment results if there are significant enough damages to warrant asking FEMA for a Public Assistance (PA) or Individual Assistance (IA) disaster declaration.  PA is assistance to repair bridges, roads, culverts etc.  IA is for assistance to individuals.  Both have separate criteria to meet in order to qualify.  It has been difficult in the past for SD to qualify for IA given the population of SD and the impacts people have sustained in past events. PA is more common in SD given damages that have been sustained to public infrastructure during ice storms, snow storms and flooding etc.

The Oglala Sioux Emergency Management representative we talked to said anyone wanting to donate to the tribal recovery efforts can mail a check payable to the Oglala Sioux Tribe Treasurer, subject line “Disaster Emergency Fund” to:

 PO BOX 2070 Pine Ridge, SD 57770

You can also make donations to statewide relief through the Red Cross.

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