Des Moines River floods after precipitous thaw


This is a view of Bentonsport River Front park shelter after the Des Moines River flooded Feb. 3-4, carrying blocks of ice deep into the park.
PHOTO COURTESY OF RUSTY EBERT This is a view of Bentonsport River Front park shelter after the Des Moines River flooded Feb. 3-4, carrying blocks of ice deep into the park.

BONAPARTE - On the night of Feb. 3, about one hour after the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl, the Des Moines River decided to add some fireworks that were sorely missing from the game.

Two days of 50 degree weather broke up ice that built up at least 18 inches thick from the 20 below temperatures in the middle of the week.

The river slowly rose all day Sunday and according to the river gauge in Keosauqua, the ice and the river rapidly increased its fury at precisely 10 p.m. that night.

By 10:30 p.m., the river had risen 2.5 feet, and the sound of the ice hitting the banks and piers of the J40 river bridge at Pittsburg was very much on the mind of Dale House, Van Buren County Supervisor. He lives near the river.

At 10:30 p.m., House wrote this on his Facebook page:

“A very unique thing is happening outside my windows tonight. As the Des Moines River which was full of ice earlier today and not real full is now moving and very full. The sound of the water moving all of that ice as it hits the piers on bridge and banks is powerful and loud. … I wish it was light to appreciate the power and sound of Mother Nature.”

For residents along the Des Moines River, the fireworks were only just beginning.

Forty-five minutes after House’s Facebook post, the river rose another 3.5 feet. The ice was moving faster than the river could handle. Ice jams formed, essentially damming the river.

For the next five hours pressure built along the river as the ice broke. Around 3 a.m. the following day on Monday morning, the ice broke at Bonaparte.

House isn’t the only Van Buren County Supervisor living along the river. Mark Meek does, too.

“It was very spooky,” said Meek.

“The ice hitting the piers at the bridge sounded like a freight train, that’s the only way I can describe it,” Meek said.

Meek and his son, Kurt, the mayor of Bonaparte, communicated and called emergency workers.

“It rose very quickly,” Mark Meek said.

What made it more dangerous is that it happened in the middle of the night. But thanks to the emergency workers, people were promptly notified and evacuated. The sheriff’s office was notified and the Bonaparte Fire Department was dispatched.

At 3 a.m., a knock came on the door of Jerry Elliott. It was a member of the Bonaparte Volunteer Fire Department. They were going door to door warning people living along the river of the dangerous situation.

“They said that there is an ice jam and that we were going to get flooded soon and to get out,” Elliott said.

He and his wife moved their vehicles and left. The area around his house flooded shortly thereafter.

Once the ice jams had worked themselves out, the floodwater receded.

City of Bonaparte maintenance worker John Holden was called by the mayor at 3 a.m. and informed of the ice jam. He snapped on his snow blade and cleared a path through the ice on First Street and set up some warning cones on side streets, among other duties.

But the ordeal wasn’t over.

About three or four hours later, the ice jammed once again.

Elliott was taking his grandchildren to the bus stop that morning when his wife called again with news of the second flood.

When asked how fast the water rose, Elliott snapped his finger.

“Like that,” he said.

And the Bonaparte maintenance worker had to blade the streets again.

“The second time around was a lot worse,” said Mark Meek.

The ice bent his flag pole during the second flooding event.

Lucy Elliott of Elliott Tire and Service said that while the flooding didn’t hit the main part of their building, it did reach the back end, which included a restroom. She also said they had to quickly move cars to escape the large chunks of ice which were wreaking havoc, including moving tires all over the river bank.

There was damage to the fences at the Bonaparte ball field and also the city lagoon, according to city officials. A telephone pole was knocked over by the ice. It appears there might be damage to some of the playground equipment at city park, but the full extent won’t be known until the ice is out of the way.

County secondary road workers had to clear roads along the river and ice covered the Bentonsport River bank. A county maintainer plowed the street open from the ice which blocked it.

Due to ice and flooding, the Bentonsport campgrounds will be closed until further notice.