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Published: Friday, June 22, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Duluth cleans up as floods persist to south

  • Trailers and boats float together as the St. Louis River overflows its banks and inundates a trailer park next to the river on Thursday at Gary -- New...

    Brian Peterson / The Star Tribune

    Trailers and boats float together as the St. Louis River overflows its banks and inundates a trailer park next to the river on Thursday at Gary -- New Duluth.

DULUTH, Minn. -- Residents of Duluth began Thursday to assess the damage from flooding caused by historic rainfall, even as areas farther south continued to fight rising waters.
While touring the flood-ravaged northeastern Minnesota city Thursday morning, Gov. Mark Dayton said state aid was a certainty and federal aid likely. Duluth's mayor, Don Ness, estimated $50 million to $80 million in damage to public infrastructure alone.
A few low-lying parts of the city still had standing water, and nearly 80 roads around St. Louis County remained closed.
"It's just horrific to see the wipeouts of whole roads that I've been traveling on for years," Dayton said.
Despite the extent of damage, no deaths or injuries were reported in Minnesota -- a fact Dayton called "remarkable." Three people did die in crashes in central Wisconsin Thursday after heavy rain washed away a 50-foot stretch of highway.
In Duluth, about a dozen animals from a barnyard exhibit at the Lake Superior Zoo were drowned. The polar bear and seals that escaped their exhibits were moved to a St. Paul zoo.
While rains had let up in northeastern Minnesota by late Wednesday, floodwaters continued to flow to the south and east and cause major problems in some areas. Moose Lake, a town of about 2,900 people 40 miles southwest of Duluth, declared a state of emergency as rising water swamped one road after another into town. The state's Department of Public Safety characterized the town as "an island."
City Administrator Mark Vahlsing said at least 30 percent of the town on Moosehead Lake was flooded and that many homes and businesses had problems with standing water. "I would say it's the worst flooding the city has ever seen," Vahlsing said.
In nearby Sturgeon Lake, Pine County authorities rescued a man after floodwaters swept his panel track off a highway. Near the town of Rutledge, deputies in a boat rescued an elderly man from his trailer after floodwaters knocked it off its foundation.
"It's still a flash flood situation here, and we don't know where it will pop," said Pine County Chief Deputy Steve Blackwell. "We're just trying to anticipate problem areas."
Blackwell said the areas worst affected were close to streams, rivers and lakes swelled by recent rains. The National Weather Service said 7.2 inches of rain fell on Duluth Tuesday and Wednesday, breaking a two-day record that dated to July 1909.
In Savanna Portage State Park, about 70 miles west of Duluth, two groups of seven campers total got stranded at their campsite after floodwaters washed out their only exit. Sandy Weller, the park's assistant manager, said rangers were about to reach the campers with all-terrain vehicles but that both groups opted to stay with their vehicles and wait out the floods.
An excavating crew was rebuilding the road, and Weller said they hoped to get the campers out late Thursday.
"They're in good spirits," Weller said of the campers. "It's an adventure for them."
Weller said the 16,000-acre state park would be closed to camping at least through the weekend. Similar situations held in other state parks and recreational areas, an unwanted summertime hit for a region where the economy relies heavily on tourism. Despite the cleanup ahead, St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson said as the Independence Day holiday looms that officials want tourists to know the region is still open for business.
The Red Cross said that nearly 200 people stayed in shelters overnight in Duluth. About 250 residents of the city's Fond du Lac neighborhood were told to evacuate Wednesday night, though St. Louis County Emergency Services Manager Scott Camps said 49 people stayed in their homes against the wishes of authorities.
Shelters had also been set up in the towns of Moose Lake and Askov, also south of Duluth.
Officials said the rise and fall of the floodwaters was unpredictable and that many areas saw numerous crests. Authorities in Duluth and in rural areas in the region were warning people to stay away from streams and culverts and to not under any circumstances drive around barricades or through flooded parts of roads. Officials in most areas said they expected flooding problems to persist at least into the coming weekend, and they were praying for continued sunny weather.
After his tour, Dayton said a special legislative session is possible to respond to flood damage. He said the region's economy could take a hit with paper mills and taconite plants affected by flooding.
Dayton said he would do everything he could to make sure that state and federal aid flowed quickly, but he warned people they would have to be patient.
"I wish there were a magic wand and all these roads could be prepared," Dayton said.
Story tags » FloodRain

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