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Flood frustrations on McCook Lake

todayJuly 2, 2024 2

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NORTH SIOUX CITY, S.D. (KELO) – It’s been over a week since flood devastation struck the McCook Lake neighborhood in North Sioux City. Residents in the area say they are no stranger to the possibility of flooding, but this event brought some new frustrations with it.

In just a matter of minutes, the eastern side of McCook Lake in North Sioux City was underwater.

“It was eight minutes from the time that I was in my bedroom and heard my neighbors screaming because I was texting with a friend,” Kathy Roberts, a McCook Lake resident, said. “It was eight minutes from the time I was in my bedroom until the time I got on to high ground and called my son to say, ‘I’m safe, I’m okay, I’m out of the water.'”

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And it happened without warning.

“I really didn’t think this was going to be a big deal because nobody ever said, ‘hey McCook Lake, you need to leave,” Roberts said.

It all started on Sunday, June 23rd after days of unprecedented rain. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem held a press conference at 2 p.m. with the Union County Emergency Manager and other officials.

“The Big Sioux River at Sioux City is projected to set a new record of 42.2 feet at 1 p.m. on Monday,” Noem said on June 23rd.

During the press conference, Noem called for a voluntary evacuation of Dakota Dunes, which is about five miles south of the McCook Lake area. A decades-old mitigation plan was also put into action.

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“6 p.m. this evening, we’re expecting to close exit 4, we’re going to be working on a levy project in that area so we will be closing that area down later this evening,” Jason Westcott, Union County Emergency Manager, said on June 23rd.

That exit is just to the east of McCook Lake.

“So what I would say to them is, yes, they should be protecting their personal property on McCook Lake because we do anticipate that they will take in water,” Noem said on June 23rd. “That’s what we’re preparing for.”

But the devastation was quick.

“As soon as they put the berm up the water just started coming through the field over here and you could see it seeping and then it just came up like in five minutes looked out the front door and there was a river of water already coming through,” McCook Lake resident Steve Barajs said.

“The water came so fast that most people didn’t have time to get out of their homes without walking out of them, they couldn’t drive out of them,” Julie Burhoop, Vice President of Communications for the McCook Lake Association, said. “We didn’t have any emergency notifications.”

The lack of communication is what frustrated some McCook Lake residents the most. Officials with the city, county and state say it all happened faster than they expected.

“That impacted the evacuation process, absolutely. I know that Union County Management did make efforts to get the messaging out and locally we tried to get out by word of mouth as best as possible,” Andrew Nilges, interim administrator for the City of North Sioux City, said. “I understand there’s going to be frustrations, absolutely.”

Union County Emergency Manager Jason Westcott says they sent out alerts as soon as officers noticed water in the McCook Lake area, but not all residents received that notification.

“I checked my Amber Alerts, all of that emergency notification is on but I think maybe because we live in a tri-state area we don’t all have 605 area cell phones, most of us probably don’t,” Burhoop said. “So we didn’t get any of those messages if they were sent out as they said.”

“No Amber Alert went off on my phone, no tornado sirens sounded, no megaphone from an official car, you know, police car or something,” Roberts said.

They hope that changes in the future.

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“This is awful that this all happened. We are all devastated,” Burhoop said. “Our community is just ravaged by what happened by this huge, massive rain event that none of us could control. It’s not any single person’s fault that this happened. Communication could’ve absolutely been better. I know that they’re going to work really super hard to make sure that communication does get better in the future.”

For now, the fixing and rebuilding continues.

“Moving forward, I just hope that somehow I can still have my neighborhood and the people that we’re close to,” Roberts said. “I’ve been a resident at McCook Lake for 26 years, I think, and I can’t imagine living somewhere else.”

The President of the McCook Lake Association tells KELOLAND News that out of a total of around 230 houses in that area, 26 are total losses and around 100 are damaged.

Residents we spoke to say communication got better about three days after the flooding when the City of North Sioux City began giving them the latest information and resources. You can follow their Facebook page to stay updated.

Written by: The Dam Rock Station

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