A ‘Holy Moly’ Day

The road leading to the Stone Church Bridge in northern Yankton County was quickly submerged by floodwater following the March 2019 bomb cyclone. The road was closed for months.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of stories looking back on the March 2019 bomb cyclone.

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Monetarily speaking, Yankton County beyond the Yankton city limits didn’t see near the damage that the city experienced during the March 2019 bomb cyclone.

But that doesn’t mean that the impacts of the storm weren’t far-reaching for county residents.

Recently, Yankton County Office of Emergency Management Director Paul Scherschligt talked with the Press & Dakotan about how that event unfolded and how impacts continued well beyond the storm’s end. Some linger even today.

‘A DrearyDay’

Scherschligt had one way to describe the beginning of March 13, 2019: a normal day.

“It was kind of dreary, rainy and misty when I came to work,” he said. “It started raining and temperatures were getting warmer. I had gotten a call from where I live in Lesterville that the lift station that discharges the city’s sewer was going into an alarm and they didn’t know what to do.”

He took an early lunch to deal with the situation in Lesterville. He said he knew it wouldn’t take long for the rest of the county to start seeing events accelerate.

“It went from kind of dreary to a ‘holy moly’ day,” he said.

Scherschligt said it was soon clear to him that it was going to be a day the likes of which the county hadn’t experienced in recent memory.

“The calls were coming into the office and we were having water rescue missions from all over the area,” he said. “The phones were just non-stop. We activated the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and started bringing people in, and went and met with the city. They were doing their emergency stuff and we combined our efforts so we weren’t doubling up on efforts.”

In total, 25 people were evacuated from vehicles and homes in Yankton County with no injuries reported.

Throughout the county, there many reports of damages as the storm finally vacated the area. The vast majority of the county-administered road system was closed to all traffic with water over the roads in a number of low-lying areas along the James River. Crews ran out of “Road Closed” signs and had to improvise in many cases.

With the floods coinciding with the spring thaw, many roads remained dangerously soft for weeks. A burn ban was put in place out of fear that many of the roads couldn’t support fire trucks and other rescue equipment.

At the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area, campsites flooded, four docks were damaged and Canary Beach experienced heavy shoreline erosion. Shane Bertsch, district park supervisor, told the Press & Dakotan last April that Lewis & Clark Lake rose two feet higher than it ever had in its history during the flood.

Scherschligt said the county received an estimated $1.2 million to roads and infrastructure while the nine townships were likely close to $1 million combined. He said that total damages, not including the city, could be as high as $2.5 million.

Ongoing Effects

Once the bomb cyclone had vacated the area, the county got to work on picking up the pieces by working with FEMA and those residents that experienced the flooding— a process that has only been exacerbated by a second flood and continues to this day.

“We started working trying to get all of the paperwork done for the spring flood,” Scherschligt said. “And then in September, we did it all over again on the Jim River.”

He added there have also been upgrades made to county software systems to make collecting flooding information easier in the future and to broadcast road closures more efficiently.

Scherschligt said that the county still has yet to see any federal relief funds.

“We just had a meeting last week with the person that does the collections and they’re still putting the data in,” he said. “We’re hoping in the next month or so, we’ll hear something.”

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