Lt. Gov. Michels reflects on South Dakota flood fight - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Lt. Gov. Michels reflects on South Dakota flood fight

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PIERRE, S.D. (KTIV) -

South Dakota's Lieutenant Governor, who grew up along the Missouri River, says he learned a lot about the power of the human spirit during the flood fight.

However, managing the Emergency Operations Center in Dakota Dunes also took a toll on him physically.

Matt Michels doesn't take public service for granted.

"Yes it's not easy, but it's also one of the most rewarding things I've ever done," he said.

The Vermillion native, who now calls Yankton home, is in his third year as South Dakota's Lieutenant Governor.

Michels said, "Every day I come in here with an awe and an appreciation for the people who came before us so that we could do it."

He's no stranger to government. He served eight years in the legislature. But, the challenges brought on by massive flooding along the Missouri River in 2011 created a new set of government goals.

"One of them was to make sure no life is lost," said Lt. Gov. Michels.

State officials accomplished that with a massive effort to evacuate and build levees to hold back months of record high water.

"From our perspective, it was, from day one, "What do you need and we'll make it happen." That was our motto," he said.

Michels oversaw the Emergency Operations Center in Dakota Dunes, tracking water levels and national guard troops. The teamwork saved many homes in several communities, but couldn't prevent all from water damage. Seeing people rise to the occasion, helping neighbors and in many cases even strangers, left a lasting impression.

"Communities survive events like hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms and floods by virtue of neighborhood action. Knowing who your neighbors are. People not depending on government intervention specifically, but taking care of each other and being prepared yourself," said Michels.

Keeping tabs on the flood situation in the capital city of Pierre, but also between Yankton and Dakota Dunes, took its toll on Michels. He suffered a debilitating back injury which forced him to reduce his hours. A his request, it took the Lt. Governor's job again from full time to part time.

"I got in my car, which was a lower car and I had a phenomenal amount of back pain. My physician said your train hit the wall. I'd never been through anything like that and have a new appreciation for people with chronic pain," said the Lt. Governor.

The republican says he still struggles with travel at times, and will occasionally use the state plane for long distance trips within the state, specifically events in the western half of the state. But, it hasn't dampened his spirit of service or his belief that people can make a difference in their community and their state.

"Be involved," he said. "Whether your run for office, regardless of your party. The world is run by those who show up and I believe the largest political party in the nation is the apathetic party and we should get involved."

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