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College handling Upper Iowa River flooding

Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Public Information, 563-387-1865

Link to photos of flooding: http://photobureau.luther.edu/album38/

(Also see embedded video at bottom of page)

We want to provide you with information about the situation on Luther campus as we deal with current flood conditions.

The Winneshiek County Emergency Management Agency believes this flood may be the worst in the history of Winneshiek County, and certainly the worst since the Corps of Engineers built the dike system through Decorah in the 1940s.

We want to apprise you about the flood conditions, the current estimate of damage to campus facilities, and the spirit of the Luther and Decorah communities during this crisis.

On Sunday morning, June 8, the level of the Upper Iowa River began to rise rapidly as heavy rains swept across the three-state area. Decorah recorded about 6.5 inches of rainfall during a 48-hour period, and surrounding communities recorded that amount and more. This deluge is part of one of the wettest springs on record, so the soil is saturated, and virtually all of this recent rainfall has become runoff.

Because Decorah is located in what is essentially an elongated bowl, runoff from all sides of the "bowl" drained and pooled in the river valley bottoms.

Because the level of the Upper Iowa River rose so quickly, this runoff water had nowhere to go and quickly threatened all low areas in the City of Decorah and on campus.

Sandbagging efforts across the city and campus began mid-morning Sunday. The sandbagging helped many areas, but many other areas of town were overwhelmed by the runoff water.

The river level was about 15.7 feet at 5 p.m. Sunday, and it appeared that the flood would not reach the Luther areas protected by sandbagging. But the river level rose to 17.9 feet by 8 p.m. and to 18 feet by 9 a.m. Monday.

Shortly after 8:00 a.m. this morning, county officials ordered the closing of College Drive Bridge and all other bridges over the Upper Iowa River, so

Luther sent home all employees except a skeleton staff. This proved to be a wise decision, because by noon all streets and roads connecting to campus had been closed by flooding, except Old Highway 52. Luther College essentially became an island.

County and city emergency officials also ordered the evacuation of homes on the west side. Luther temporarily housed some evacuees from the Aase Haugen nursing home and is currently providing shelter and food for 25-50 evacuees from the west side.

Because Upper Iowa River levels reached a record 18 feet Monday morning, water flowed over the dike onto Luther athletic fields. By late morning there was a levee breach of approximately 20 feet near the college's baseball field. This led to significant flooding of the fields and the Regents Center parking lot. For the city of Decorah, this river spillover onto the athletic fields may have saved downstream homes and other property because it created a temporary flood plain that slowed the river's rise.

Mid-afternoon Monday, the river level began to lower. At 4 p.m., it was a little over 15 feet. Luther and contract construction workers opened a channel in the dike to allow flood water on lower campus to flow into the lowered river. We are discussing options with contractors to fill the washed-out part of the dike and that channel.

Weather forecasts indicate rainstorms on June 12 may cause the level of the river to rise again. Conditions will dictate our actions.

As of this evening the damage to the college does not appear to be extensive, thanks to sandbagging efforts. About a foot of water flooded into the Regents Center racquetball courts, and one corner of the North Gym was wet but not under water. Most of the grounds on lower campus have been covered by flood water more than 48 hours, so there will likely be considerable kill of grass, shrubs and trees. There will also be damage to athletic field facilities: baseball and softball dugouts, scoreboard, fencing, etc.

Several campus tunnels have had various levels of flooding. Electrical service to several buildings has been disrupted. Diane Tacke arranged for a mobile electrical generator to be transported to campus to restore power.

Because power was out in the lower levels of Dahl Centennial Union, she ordered a refrigerated truck onto campus to store all food that was in Food Service coolers. These actions, and others by many Luther staff people, have probably saved the college significant financial loss.

The college will not begin detailed assessment of damages until the immediate threat has passed and we have all employees back at work.

The spirit of Luther and Decorah citizens has been incredible through this crisis. More than 500 people came to campus--staff, faculty, and summer program students, but also many residents of Decorah--to sandbag, help feed volunteers, drive vehicles to safe locations, and do other volunteer work.

Luther's trades, grounds and security people were phenomenal, responding quickly and efficiently and working long hours to deal with electrical problems, flooding, housing, coordinating construction contractors, and doing whatever needed to be done.

Residence Life staff went above and beyond the call of duty to assure safe and secure accommodations for the 200-plus students on campus, some staff who needed to stay through the nights, and Decorah people who are flood evacuees. Food Service staff have done a terrific job keeping workers and evacuees fed.

The college's Crisis Response team, under the leadership of Diane Tacke, has dealt with each stage of the crisis in good order. They provided the framework for response, and wise independent action by many, many people "in the trenches" is helping she college weather the storm with minimal damage so far.

The college's new emergency communications system has served us well in delivering timely and accurate information to staff, students and faculty.

We are very fortunate to have this system in place and operating efficiently.


Link to photos of flooding: http://photobureau.luther.edu/album38/

Video of campus flooding:

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Phone: 563-387-2000 or 800-4 LUTHER (800-458-8437)