Katie Oster, manager of the tiny Exchange store at the South Dakota Air National Guard Base in Sioux Falls, watched with caution as the levee about two miles away barely held back the rising river.
Weather experts had predicted that the Big Sioux River would crest Tuesday, but so far the levee was holding up. Although some parts of Sioux Falls had flooded, the installation had been spared. Although another crest was predicted for late Thursday night or early Friday morning, weather experts said Tuesday afternoon that the threat had passed.
‘They’ve always been there’
When word spread last week through the city about the potential flooding, six Air National Guard members showed up unannounced at the Exchange to help Oster raise merchandise by 4 feet to protect products from any water that might enter the store.
“Any time that we’ve asked local command for help, they’ve always come through,” Oster said. “Any time I’ve ever needed help, they’ve always been here. We look after each other and you won’t find a more cohesive base. Many of us have known each other for years.”
Oster should know. She practically grew up in the Sioux Falls store.
Her mother, Sherri, ran the store for 26 years before retiring two years ago.
Oster is the third generation of her family to serve the same Air National Guard unit; her niece, Makenzie, is the fourth.
‘In bad shape’
Unlike the South Dakota base, another National Guard installation and its Exchange didn’t fare as well.
Historic flooding throughout the Midwest two weeks ago caused water in the raging Platte River to overflow and dump at least nine feet of water on Camp Ashland, Neb., an Army National Guard installation. Water flooded the small Exchange.
Installation commanders told Exchange General Manager Jerry Shugart that the camp will likely be closed for at least 60 days. The Exchange will be closed during that period.
Exchange facilities managers from Fort Riley, Kan., and five managers from Offutt AFB came to the Camp Ashland store to clean up the mess and replace damaged shelving and merchandise.
“The store was in pretty bad shape,” Shugart said Tuesday. “Mud was literally everywhere. When the water receded and we were able to get to the store, we found water marks about 24 inches high on the building’s exterior, but once we got inside, the water made it up to 48 inches.
“Many of our fixtures are covered in lots of mud and a lot of merchandise fell on the floor. Even drinks in our coolers were submerged in water.”
Offutt Exchange spared
At Offutt AFB, Exchange stores were spared damage since most flooding occurred on the other side of the installation.
But business is down about 20 percent at the main store because fewer people are being allowed on the installation and daytime base workers have been moved to later shifts, Shugart said.