Northeast Iowa communities anxiously watch rapidly rising Turkey River

Authorities prepare for flooding

Turkey River rises over the river bank in Elkader, Iowa on Thursday, June 19, 2014. (Justin Wan/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
Turkey River rises over the river bank in Elkader, Iowa on Thursday, June 19, 2014. (Justin Wan/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

For Fayette County, already sodden from deluges starting Monday night, the next-to-worst-case scenario materialized Thursday afternoon.

“We got another 3 to 5 inches,” Emergency Management director Mike Foland said.

The worst case scenario, an additional round of heavy rain, was expected early Thursday evening.

“We’re not having a very good day,” Foland said.

Sheriff Marty Fisher said Thursday afternoon that he had heard unofficial reports of 10-plus inches in a 12-hour period near Hawkeye west of West Union.

The Thursday afternoon rains covered and closed many roads and highways, including the county’s two main east-west thoroughfares, Highways 3 and 18, Fayette County engineer Al Miller said.

“All of our guys are out closing roads,” Miller said at 5:15 p.m. Thursday. “We still don’t have a full handle on all the closures.”

In addition to actual and threatened flash flooding, residents of several northeast Iowa communities anxiously were watching the rapidly rising Turkey River.

“It sounds like more rain is coming and more water will be coming down the Turkey from farther upstream. We are closely monitoring conditions in Waucoma, Eldorado, Elgin and Clermont,” Fisher said.

At Elkader, which suffered more than $6 million damage in 2008 flooding, the Turkey River was projected to hit 18.2 feet today, nearly two feet below the 20-foot major flood stage and well below the record crest of 30.9 feet June 10, 2008.

However, the National Weather Service posted that prediction before the Thursday afternoon storm and it may be subject to change.

City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert said campers have been asked to leave a campground near the river on Highway 13.

“Everyone is watching the radar and hoping for no more rain,” she said.

Upstream in Elgin, where the Turkey lapped at the 18-foot moderate flood stage, City Superintendent Tom Martin said sand piles, sandbags and pumps were being positioned in case they are needed.

“Right now, it’s a waiting game,” he said.

“The river is out of its banks, but nowhere near the top of the dike that protects much of the city,” he said Thursday.

Martin said 2½ inches of rain fell Wednesday night in Elgin, considerably less than the more than 4 inches recorded in the southern Winneshiek County town of Ossian, which lies in the Turkey River watershed.

At Clermont, where the river was approaching the 18-foot moderate flood stage at 6 p.m. Thursday, campers parked closest to the river had been evacuated from the Skip-A-Way RV Park and Campground, according to Don Pearson of Park Rapids, Minn., who was vacationing this week at Skip-A-Way.

Farther downstream at Garber, where the Volga River empties into the Turkey, the river stood at 18.66 feet at 6 p.m. Thursday, en route to a predicted crest of 21.5 feet today.

The Fayette County Sheriff’s Office said all campgrounds near rivers had been evacuated, including Gouldsburg Park on the banks of the Little Turkey River northwest of West Union and Gilbertson Park in Elgin.

High water also has affected operations at several Eastern Iowa state parks.

In Fayette County, equestrian trails at Volga River State Recreation Area are closed because of heavy rains and downed trees,

In Delaware County, the east, west and north entrances of Backbone State Park are closed until further notice because of high water in the main part of the park. However, the two campgrounds, beach area and cabins remain open.

Little Paint, Big Paint, Creekside Equestrian and Frontier Equestrian campgrounds at Yellow River State Forest in Allamakee County will be closed through Monday and all horse trails will be closed through Thursday.

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