Heavy rain triggers mudslide, forcing temporary road closures along Minnesota River Valley

(KSTP) – Heavy rain and flooding closed a few highways Sunday in southern Minnesota and is believed to be the cause of a mudslide on Highway 68 south of Courtland, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Reports of the mudslide were first made to MnDOT around 4:00 a.m. Sunday, MnDOT assistant maintenance manager Chase Fester said. The road was closed for about six hours.

“So what happened is that water starts coming down the face of that slope, that material gets really saturated and caused that whole clay, muddy area basically just to slough off and work its way down to the road,” Fester explained.

A couple of cars were damaged after driving into it, but no one was hurt, Fester said.

Mudslide on Highway 68 south of Courtland (Credit: Brown County Sheriff’s Office)

“Luckily, we didn’t have a lot of trees and things like that that came down. It was mostly just clay and mud. So it was a little bit easier to clean up,” he continued.

Fester considered it a small-scale mudslide. He estimated it was 10 times smaller than the one he remembers at the same spot in 2018.

“The first big slide we had,” Fester recalled. “Material was 8 to 10 feet deep across the road.”

The blockage left the highway closed for weeks, Fester said.

“We did do some work in the area to help stabilize that slope, added some additional drainage,” he shared.

Since then, Fester can recall one other smaller-scale mudslide like Sunday’s, which was cleaned up and the road reopened by 10:15 a.m.

Just about an hour north in Henderson, Kim Byrne said the Sunday morning closure of Highway 93 south of the city was taking a hit to business at Wager’s grocery and gas, where she works.

“So we do get slow, really slow after that. It’s kind of a ghost town some nights. It’s sad to say but it is,” Byrne said.

Just east of Henderson in Sibley County, MnDOT has closed a stretch of Highway 19. That means steady traffic in and out of the city will grind nearly to a halt, Byrne said, affecting the one-stop shop for trucker traffic in the area.

“And if we don’t have that, it’s going to really affect us, unfortunately,” she continued.

“Current forecasts are leading us to believe that there’s going to be additional closures on some roads,” Fester added. “As well as, you know, potential for additional mudslides if things continue to stay wet like this.”

Fester expects Highway 93 near Henderson to be closed at least for the next couple of days and Highway 19 east of the city to be closed at least through Monday.

The mudslide was most likely out of MnDOT’s control, Fester said, adding that MnDOT is using aerials to investigate the area to ensure there aren’t further prevention efforts needed.