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Davison County, S.D., Flood Losses Exceed $15M from September

The total estimated loss for the county from the September storm is $15,370,722.58, said County Emergency Management Administrator Jeff Bathke. In 90 sites FEMA visited in person, the estimated loss was $9.5 million.

by Marcus Traxler, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D. / December 19, 2019

(TNS) — As the year comes to a close, the cost of damage from flooding in Davison County has climbed above $15 million.

The total estimated loss for the county from the September flooding is $15,370,722.58, according to Davison County Emergency Management Administrator Jeff Bathke. More than two-thirds of that — $11,740,971.12 — has been estimated to be losses that may qualify for individual assistance, primarily affecting 319 sites of homes and businesses in Davison County. In 90 sites that the Federal Emergency Management Administration visited in person, the estimated loss was $9.5 million.

In a message to local government leaders, Bathke said that many have had unsafe or inhabitable basements and furnace and hot water heater damage. Much of that damage came through the 7-plus inches of rain the Mitchell area received Sept. 11-12, which represents more than one-fifth of the total precipitation received so far in 2019, according to the National Weather Service office in Sioux Falls. (For the year, Mitchell has received 35.22 inches of precipitation, nearly 14 inches above normal for mid-December.)

Also coming into focus is the efforts of the American Red Cross and Salvation Army in that storm response. The Red Cross made 120 contacts with individuals and groups to help with shelter and emergency needs. The Salvation Army served more than 2,000 meals, more than 4,000 snacks and gave out more than six pallets of water and sports drinks following the flood, while distributing 340 flood cleanup kits. The Salvation Army also provided emergency lodging for 15 families and their pets, and it continues to assist with rental and utility assistance, as well as assisting through its food pantry.

FEMA has started to pay out individual assistance from the September storm. As of Dec. 13, 275 people in Davison County registered with FEMA, and $738,407.87 in grant funding has been administered to residents in need of residential assistance, Bathke said. For the entire section of southeast South Dakota that federally declared as a disaster area, more than $3.3 million in individual assistance has been approved for 862 applications.

Homeowners and renters affected by the September disaster have about one month — until Jan. 17 — to register for individual assistance, which is not meant to cover all losses, but help with covering the costs of essential needs, such as home repairs, rental assistance (if displaced) and personal property loss.

Affected residents should contact FEMA either online at, or by calling 1-800-621-3362. Residents can also visit the Disaster Recovery Center at the Davison County Fairgounds (3200 W. Havens Ave. in Mitchell) in person from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Residents are encouraged to have proof of ownership documents, and documents showing insurance denials, if applicable.

Bathke reiterated that he expects a few thousand claims based on the amount of flood-related debris that was picked up at curbside following the flooding.

“We know there were many more than this affected due to the amount of debris on the curb,” Bathke said in an email. “If a claim is denied, it may be as simple as a missing document. Visiting the Disaster Recovery Center can resolve this.”

Bathke also advised that the National Flood Insurance Program is available to anyone through FEMA. That information can be accessed through the FEMA website.

The impact on Davison County’s local governments is also increased by more than five-fold. Public and non-profit damages were tallied at more than $3.6 million at 351 sites in the county. That is bolstered mostly by the costs of damages to nine bridges in the county with $2,129,565 in damages, Bathke said. By comparison to the March flooding and storm damage, for example, the county had damage at 354 sites for an estimated amount of $696,142. Bathke said it will take years to repair damages from around the county.

The numbers bring Davison County’s total recorded damages in the county to more than $16 million between the spring and September floods.

Related to agricultural issues, ag-related losses should be submitted to the local U.S. Department of Agriculture office, but homeowners may be able to qualify for individual assistance and Small Business Administration loans by visiting with representatives at the Davison County Fairgrounds.

A majority of the James River is frozen underneath the State Highway 37 bridge in Sanborn County north of Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Fear of more flooding

In a discussion with the Davison County Commission on Tuesday, Bathke also discussed the potential scope of flooding conditions in 2020.

At numerous locations along the James River, the river is at moderate flood stage. At Scotland, for example, the water level has climbed three feet in the last six days. Major flood stage conditions have been found at sites between Aberdeen and Huron, as releases from the Jamestown Dam in North Dakota and ice jams are occurring further upstream.

“This was bad, and next spring will be worse,” Bathke said, based on some forecasts. “It will be worse if the frost goes as deep as they’re saying because the moisture involved and the frozen ground will be a bad mix. The longer it takes to get the frost out of the ground, the worse the roads will be.”

Frequent freezing and thawing can cause roads to heave and become damaged, which is a concern in rural areas.

“There are a lot of spots where you can’t identify the channel anymore because there’s that much water,” Bathke said. “We’re advising people to really be watching the ice movement because the river will rise and fall some with the ice.”

Bathke, who also leads the county’s Search and Rescue team, said the group is prepared for the winter season, but will have to make a risk assessment on whether to risk its own personnel trying to make rescues.

“We know we’ll have to be ready,” he said.

Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode said a focus needs to be placed on making people aware of the dangerous conditions related to the James River and its subsidiaries. She said stressed the rivers will be risky places to be for the considerable future.

“The river will never be safe this year,” she said. “Rivers and lakes are two different animals right now.”


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