Live updates: Rapidan Dam partial failure latest news

The Rapidan Dam in south central Minnesota suffered a partial failure on Monday, June 24. The white house on the edge of the Blue Earth River has since fallen into the river. And officials say they are now concerned about a nearby bridge after erosion has worsened. Here are the latest updates and videos from the dam site.

Thursday, June 27 update

Blue Earth County Public Works, Emergency Management and Sheriff’s Office continue to monitor the Rapidan Dam situation.  There are no significant changes to report Thursday morning. 

"The county, and its partners, remain onsite and continue to research and evaluate options, assess, inspect and collaborate. We continue to monitor and measure water level and bank loss. The channel profile at the bridge lowered overnight.  At this time, the bridge and dam situations remain stable; however, the water velocity continues to hinder any mitigation efforts. Yesterday, the County was able to remove a structure from the property on the west side of the dam to prevent additional debris entering into the river. This morning, the County pavilion was removed for the same reasons."

Wednesday, June 26 update

Officials say they are now concerned about a nearby bridge after erosion has worsened near Rapidan Dam following a partial failure this week.

Blue Earth County leaders say there has been a "dramatic" shift overnight into Wednesday morning that has seen the river cut deeper into the west bank of the river.

As a result, a neighboring house that was teetering on the edge of the bank has now fallen in entirely. The house had already been evacuated when it fell, leaving no risk to the homeowners.

"There is currently little to no flow through the gates of the dam as the majority of the flow is going around the west side of the dam," officials write. "Although the water flow has slowed slightly, the water is still flowing at a rate that inhibits emergency mitigation strategies. The focus has shifted from the dam to the bridge given the recent erosion."

Aerial video on Wednesday morning shows a larger gap between the dam and land on the west side.

Concerns about bridge as erosion worsens

Blue Earth County officials said Wednesday there has been a "dramatic" shift that has seen the river cut deeper into the west bank of the river. As a result, a neighboring house that was teetering on the edge of the bank has now fallen in entirely. Officials say there is now concern about the Glacier Road Bridge, which runs over the Blue Earth River just south of the dam.

Family watches as house falls into Blue Earth River

The worst outcome from the Rapidan Dam’s partial failure has arrived.

The Hruska family watched their home fall into the Blue Earth River Tuesday night and that might not be the last of their losses. It’s a waiting game now to see if their store — sitting there for more than 100 years now — will also fall in.

The house and the dam store stood along the river for more than 100 years. The business and the pies have been synonymous with the Hruska family since the 1970s. 

But now the store stands alone and maybe not for long. Engineers and Blue Earth County leaders are worried the erosion could soon take out the bridge just south of the dam. And losing the store now seems inevitable.

If the store does not fall into the river, the family is hoping they can pick it up and move it to another location and get the business up and running again. They have started a GoFundMe page to do that and to rebuild the family home. 

Timeline of Rapidan Dam emergency

Blue Earth County Public Works and Emergency Management are continuously monitoring the dam. Routine monitoring occurred Saturday, Sunday and remains ongoing.  

On Sunday evening, June 23, the dam exhibited high flows and additional debris, but still displayed adequate capacity. 

Around 1:30 a.m. on Monday, June 24, notice was issued that there was water overlapping the dam. Around 3 a.m., notifications were sent to regulatory agencies per requirements of the dam Emergency Action Plan.

As flows peaked on Monday, there was partial failure of the west abutment, resulted in the washing away of an Xcel Energy substation causing power outages. The term "imminent threat" was used as outlined in the County’s Emergency Action Plan.

"There is a mistruth out there that people believe if the dam had a catastrophic failure, that a wall of seven-foot water would be coming," explained Blue Earth County Emergency Manager Eric Weller. "The water level in a catastrophic event would not be that significant."

The water is flowing around the west side of the dam and continues to erode slopes on the west side, which led to the loss of the white house on the edge of the river.

Water peaked Monday at 34,800 cubic feet per second and have lowered to 33,000 cubic feet per second as of Tuesday morning.

The County Road 9 bridge remains closed to traffic for public safety. 

No mass evacuations ordered

Blue Earth County has not issued any mass evacuation plans.  Anyone who is in immediate danger from the Rapidan Dam has been notified, the sheriff's office said.  Monday morning, Gov. Tim Walz and state emergency response officials provided an update on the statewide flooding response and were asked about the situation at the Rapidan Dam.

"We are continuing to monitor the status of the dam with local officials," said Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Kristi Rollwagen. "We were made aware of the situation about 4 a.m. this morning. We’re also looking at the communication cell towers in the area and working to get resources down there to support cellular communications. Right now the integrity of the dam is intact, but we will continue to monitor it and be aware of what’s going on."

"I know the structural integrity of the dam has been a question for a long time," Gov. Walz said. "The removal of the dam has been a question that’s been up there."

Rapidan Dam was in poor condition prior to failure

Federal regulators found the Rapidan Dam to be in poor condition in their recent inspections over the last few years.

It’s 114 years old and like a lot of dams across the country, it is starting to act its age.

Failure wasn’t exactly inevitable, but civil engineers say the typical design life for a dam is 50 years and this one was more than twice as old.

They give Minnesota a C grade for dam conditions, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but it’s at least better than the national grade of D.

The Rapidan Dam is classified as having a significant hazard potential because a failure would cause plenty of environmental damage, but nobody lives permanently in the area immediately downstream.

People are more likely to die if a high hazard dam gives way and a 2022 analysis found Minnesota had six high hazard dams in unsatisfactory or poor condition.

Blue Earth County Commissioner Kevin Paap told FOX 9 that federal inspectors were back at Rapidan in May, and although they still believed it was in poor condition, they told commissioners there were no major dam safety issues needing immediate action.

Highway and road closures in south central Minnesota

Highways CLOSED or have traffic restrictions as of 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25:

  • Lane closures on northbound and southbound Highway 169/93 near Le Sueur (June 25)
  • Highway 169 from Le Sueur to St. Peter, and Highway 169 from Highway 99 west of St. Peter to Mankato is closed. Traffic from Mankato to Le Sueur is detoured to County Roads 8, 20, 5 (Old Fort Road), 40, Highway 99, Nicollet County Road 13 and Highway 14. People wanting to go into St. Peter may exit at either Broadway Avenue or on Highway 99 south of St. Peter. (June 25)
  • Highway 60 in Windom. Traffic is temporarily detoured. Check for detour route. (closed June 24)
  • Highway 62 in Windom. Traffic is detoured to 6th S and Highway 60. (closed June 24)
  • Highway 22 south of St. Peter to Kasota. Traffic may use the Highway 169 detour, Highway 99 (south of St. Peter), Nicollet County Road 13, and Highway 14. (closed June 24)
  • Highway 169/60 - all entrance and exit ramps to the Lookout Drive/Center Street area in North Mankato are closed (June 24)
  • Highway 99, near the Minnesota River bridge, east of St. Peter – bridge and highway are closed. Traffic is detoured to Highway 99 west of St. Peter, County Road 13, Highway 14, 22 and Le Sueur County Road 21 (Golf Course Road).
  • Highway 15 north of Madelia. Traffic detoured to Watonwan County Roads 6, 13, and 27. (closed June 23)
  • Highway 71 in Jackson. Traffic is detoured to Interstate 90, Highway 86, and Jackson County Road 34. (closed June 22)
  • Highway 62 east of Fulda (near Talcot Lake). Traffic is detoured to Cottonwood County Roads 7, 13 and 5. (closed June 22)
  • Highway 22 south of Kasota. Water on the shoulder. (June 22)
  • Highway 93, between Highway 169 and Le Sueur. Motorists should use alternate routes. (closed June 22).
  • Highway 60 north of Heron Lake to Worthington. Traffic detoured to I-90 and Highway 86. (closed June 22)
  • Highway 13 in Waterville. Open to local traffic only; expect delays. Turn lane restrictions (June 21)
  • Highway 19 east of Henderson. Traffic detoured to Highway 19 west of Henderson, Sibley County Road 17 (391st Avenue), Sibley County Road 8 (336th Street), and Highway 169. (closed June 19)

Highways OPEN: 

  • Highway 14 near Janesville.
  • Highway 30 east of Mapleton.
  • Eastbound Highway 60 east of Lake Crystal. Lane restrictions removed.
  • The detour for the entrance ramp closure at Highway 169 to eastbound I-90 near Blue Earth has been routed back to Faribault County Road 16 and 17.
  • Highway 22 in Mankato near Bassett Drive. Turn lane restrictions removed.
  • Highway 4 north of St. James. (Note that Highway 4 south of Sleepy Eye is closed due to construction)
  • Highway 30 east of Westbrook.
  • Highway 59, north of Worthington. Lane restrictions removed from multiple locations.
  • Highway 75 near Hardwick. Lane restrictions removed.
  • Highway 75, south of Luverne to the Iowa border.
  • Highway 91, north of Adrian
  • Highway 86 (two miles south of I-90). Lane restriction removed.
  • Highway 13, south of Waseca
  • Eastbound Interstate 90 from Luverne to Adrian.
  • Westbound Interstate 90 from Worthington to Luverne

MnDOT crews will continue to monitor flooded highways and bridges and open them as soon as it is safe to do so. Highways and bridges impacted by floods need to be inspected for damage and safety prior to opening.

When a road is closed it is illegal to travel in that area. Motorists can be fined up to $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail. In addition, if travelers need to be rescued from a closed road, other expenses and penalties will apply.