PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said she is "likely" going to seek federal disaster relief dollars through yet another presidential disaster declaration after tornadoes and epic floods have devastated the eastern part of the state this week.
Noem took to Facebook Live Tuesday, Sept. 17 to address the "largest natural disaster that our state has ever seen, saying, "as South Dakotans, we're used to extreme weather" — but this year's string of disasters are different.
"The persistent wet weather, starting with the bomb cyclone in march and the heavy rain every few weeks since then, has created a slow rolling natural disaster of epic proportions," Noem said Tuesday.
It started in March, when Winter Storm Ulmer covered the state in an early-spring blanket of thick snow, which rapidly melted and flooded farms, homes, roads and businesses. A second late-spring blizzard hit in April, which aggravated the existing flooding issues on already sopping ground. The Black Hills were hit with yet another snowstorm in May.
Since those three back-to-back snows, it seems the state hasn't been able to catch a break. Rains have fallen upon already soaked ground regularly throughout the summer, overloading the Missouri River dam system. Tornadoes have torn apart communities from the tiny town of Burke in early August, to the state's largest city of Sioux Falls last week. Now, yet another round of flooding has sunk fields and homes, and even Interstate 90, the state's major east-to-west artery — an event Noem called "unprecedented" Tuesday.
I-90 reopened on Saturday after parts in eastern South Dakota were closed off due to flooding. This is still the status of one stretch as of Sunday evening, just west of the exits for 81. We were driving west but it was the same eastbound. pic.twitter.com/B0slMolR6S— Sarah Mearhoff (@sarah_mearhoff) September 15, 2019
Noem said in her Tuesday address that she has directed the state Secretary of the Department of Transportation and engineers to work so that "our interstates are never again closed for flooding."
"We just can’t have that happen," Noem said. "Our population is spread out. When we lose the ability to travel on interstates and major highways due to flooding, we are compounding the disaster."
Noem said in her Tuesday address that she currently does not see a need to call for a special session of the legislature. She said "the restoration costs will be immense" after this year's weather, but that "tough discussion and decisions about our budget" can wait until January.
She also said that she currently does not plan to deploy the South Dakota National Guard for military readiness and cost reasons. The National Guard was deployed to provide clean drinking water to the Pine Ridge reservation in March after thousands were left without access to clean water.
Noem said Tuesday that, according to the National Weather Service, areas in the Dakotas, Montana and Nebraska have received 400% above normal precipitation amounts in the first two weeks of September. Annual runoff in the upper Missouri River basin is expected to be double the average by the end of 2019.
U.S. President Donald Trump in June signed presidential disaster requests for a total of $46 million in damage from the spring's storms. He signed a separate disaster declaration for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In August, Noem requested another $11 million in federal aid after summer damages. Now, she said the state needs more help.
Noem's office did not immediately respond Tuesday afternoon to inquiries for specific information on a future disaster request. To date, disasters have been declared in 58 of South Dakota's 66 counties this year, in addition to three of the state's nine Native American reservations.