High waters in Walsh County: Drivers tempt fate on flooded roads as sandbagging begins
MINTO — There was more than 3 feet of water flowing over a section of U.S. Highway 81 on Thursday morning, but the driver of the car was intent on crossing to the other side.
By the time she was forced to stop, the water had reached the car’s hood. Lucky for her, volunteers were on hand to pull her free.
The state Department of Transportation said earlier in the day that it had closed parts of the highway earlier in the day, putting up barricades and detour signs.
The driver was the second in Walsh County to have a car stuck in high water that morning. The other driver, a man, was stuck on a township road south of Warsaw shortly after sunrise, according to Sheriff Lauren Wild.
“This is just stupid,” he said. “The first day of flooding and we already had two go in. When will people get the message that you can’t drive through floods?”
The incidents happened less than a year after a Minto-area farmer, Guy Miller, drowned when his pickup was washed off a county road west of this community of 600 located about 30 miles northwest of Grand Forks.
The flash flooding is believed to have been the result of an ice jam at a BNSF Railway bridge over the Forest River near the southeast edge of Minto, according to Walsh County Emergency Manager Brent Nelson.
The whole county remains under a flood warning issued earlier in the week by the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks. Other parts of the region with flood warnings include the Red River in East Grand Forks and Oslo, Minn.; the Red Lake River in Crookston, Minn.; the Snake River in Alvarado, Minn., and near Warren, Minn.; and the Two Rivers in Hallock, Minn. All are expected to crest in the next five days.
In Minto, the Forest River rose more than 4 feet to 9.12 feet — unofficially, the fourth-highest level on record, just surpassing the 1997 mark of 9.11 feet — between midnight and 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The record crest is 11.8 feet, set in 1948 and equaled in 1950. The river reached 9.27 feet in 2004, according to the weather service.
Highway 81 was closed around 3 a.m., some 90 minutes after floodwaters started threatening the road, which goes through Minto.
Volunteers worked all morning to sandbag around homes near the river on the south side of town, using hundreds of filled, unused sandbags that had been stored since the 2013 flood fight.
The river, which started to recede by noon, was at 8.64 feet at 3:15 p.m.
Meanwhile in Grafton, 10 miles to the north, Grafton High School students volunteered to help sandbag at two entrances to Leistikow Park, which could be threatened by the rising Park River.
The river is expected to crest at 14 feet early Saturday, the weather service said.
The woman who was rescued from her car in Minto was later taken to an area medical facility to be treated for exposure to the icy waters, Wild said. The driver of the other vehicle stuck in high water managed to get out and was resting at home.
The sheriff didn’t identify them.
Wild said he is frustrated by people who choose to drive through floodwaters.
“It’s maddening,” he said. “My sympathy is waning. We’ve been through this too many years.”