WATERVILLE — A weary community is settling into the reality of a long-term disaster as hundreds of homes in Waterville remain affected by flood waters that are receding painfully slow.
"The next days are going to be pressing on all of us," Fire Chief Chris Meskan warned about 200 residents at a community meeting Thursday night.
Hanging over the somber meeting was a forecast for 2-4 inches of rain this weekend, in a town that has seen the Cannon River, Whitewater Creek, Lake Tetonka and Sakatah Lake spread to many corners of the low-lying community.
The town's wastewater plant supervisor said the system is taxed to record levels and any city sewer pump failure will cause basements to fill with sewage and water.
"We went from (pumping) 160,000 gallons a day to 1.1 million gallons," he said. "Everything in this town is served by two pumps and they're at their max."
Meskan said the unprecedented rise in flood water took everyone by surprise.
"We did not expect the waters to come up as fast as they did."
He said emergency crews and volunteers began sandbagging first to protect a gas station and then important infrastructure but quickly were overwhelmed trying to protect homes.
"In parts of town the water was coming up too fast to stop," Meskan said.
Meskan and other city officials were pressed by upset homeowners, particularly along Sakatah Boulevard, about why their homes — so close to the lake shore — were not better protected.
Meskan said firefighters made the best decisions they could and were pained to abandon sandbagging in some neighborhoods.
"It may not have been the right decision for all people. We're sorry if we missed you," Meskan said.
He said crews initially put up some sandbags in the area and used a 1,250-gallon-per-minute pump to try to get flood water over the sandbag wall. "It couldn't keep up and filled back in. We couldn't do any more," he said.