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Flooding ravages Duluth and Northland roads and homes

Houses in Duluth's Irving Park neighborhood were flooded out by an overflowing nearby creek after Wednesday's heavy rains. (Bob King / rking@duluthnewstribune)6 / 6

Floodwaters engorged by a 24-hour deluge of up to 10 inches crumbled roads and damaged homes and businesses in Duluth, Superior and surrounding areas on Wednesday and caused the drowning deaths of dozens of animals at the Lake Superior Zoo.

Emergency crews rescued an 8-year-old boy who was swept five to six blocks through a culvert in Proctor on Wednesday afternoon. He had some cuts but was otherwise uninjured, St. Louis County Undersheriff Dave Phillips said.

Tom Crossmon, a captain with the St. Louis County Sheriff's Volunteer Rescue Squad, said the boy was amazingly lucky to have survived his five- to six-block journey through the culvert. Crossmon was en route to the scene in Proctor with a remotely operated underwater search device when the boy popped out the other end of the culvert.

Elsewhere Wednesday, the Rescue Squad was called to check submerged vehicles and used its airboat to rescue several stranded motorists, Crossmon said.

Half of Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood and the town of Thompson were evacuated as the St. Louis River rose from above-normal dam discharges upstream. The dams were reported to not be in danger of failure, but Minnesota Power is releasing more water that may flood homes downstream. First United Methodist Church in Duluth -- the "copper-top church" -- and the Scanlon Community Center are being used as evacuation centers.

Rescue squad members helped evacuate Fond du Lac residents by boat throughout the day. Crossmon said the squad helped about 50 people to safety Wednesday.

Most residents in affected areas have heeded evacuation advisories, but some remain, he said.

Thomson residents have been asked not to use tap water for drinking, cooking or bathing because it may be contaminated.

Heavy rainfall and flash floods in Duluth left some roads under water and caused flooding, sinkholes, open manholes and mudslides, including along parts of Skyline Parkway and in the Hillside. Parts of Interstate 35 in Duluth and in Carlton County were closed. Jean Duluth Road just south of Zimmerman Road was closed because of a washout at the Lester River crossing, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office said late Wednesday.

Some motorists were trapped in their vehicles, vehicles were stuck in sinkholes and some cars simply quit running because too much water got under the hood.

"We tried to get my wife to work at Wells Fargo but the power steering went out. There's just too much water out there,'' said Zach Eustice, who lives on Eight Street East in Duluth. "My guess is there won't be too many people going to the bank today, anyhow."

Chester Creek spilled over its banks and became a gushing torrent, spurring a mudslide that uprooted large trees near the old ski jumps. The entire Chester Bowl Park area was strewn with flooded picnic tables, and water rose toward the chalet.

Eighth Avenue East in Duluth turned into a raging stream, turning up large chunks of blacktop, blasting manhole covers and causing entire sections of sidewalk to buckle.

Many residents reported flooded basements.

Mayor Don Ness declared a state of emergency in the city of Duluth, citing "significant damage, debris and popped manholes."

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said he will visit Duluth today to assess the flood damage.

"This morning my thoughts are with our friends and neighbors in Duluth and the surrounding region, as they respond to major flooding," Dayton said in a statement. "I have spoken to Duluth Mayor Don Ness and have offered all possible state assistance now and during the recovery."

The Carlton County Sheriff's Office recommended no travel in the county except in emergencies because of flooded roadways. The most-affected areas are across northern parts of the county; Highway 210 through Jay Cooke State Park is closed. The iconic swinging bridge across the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke was yet another victim of Wednesday's flooding, swept away by the river.

Among other developments:

  • The Miller Hill Mall, which was without electricity, was closed.
  • Duluth police were asking residents to stay home, traveling only in case of emergency. Calls to 911 should be for emergency purposes only, police stressed.

    East Ninth Street, where it crosses Chester Creek and turns into East Eight Street, was closed while the bridge there was inspected for damage, police said. Eighth Street was a river with water rushing down from the Chester Creek Café at 19th Avenue toward the bridge. Chester Parkway was closed as sides of the road gave way.

  • Elevators at St. Luke's hospital in Duluth were temporarily out of service when the basement flooded. Pumps that were coming from the state's Homeland Security and Emergency Management division didn't arrive in time, said Jo Ann Hoag, vice president of network development.

    "We had our own pumps and we arranged for additional pumps," Hoag said. The 6 inches of standing water was pumped out by mid-day, when the elevators were turned back on. No electrical problems accompanied the flooding, nor did any hospital unit close down.

    "So far, that is it," Hoag said about 2 p.m. "We're taking care of patients. Open for business."

  • The Superior Police Department reported many streets with water flowing over them or washed out.
  • The National Weather Service said the Flood River in Floodwood was over its banks and past flood stage and was starting to flood some homes there. The Weather Service also reported flooding in Grand Rapids, Nashwauk and Eveleth, with many city roads covered in water.
  • The Weather Service reported that the White Pine River overflowed its banks and flooded Minnesota Highway 33 north of Cloquet, forcing the road to be closed. There were reports of 2 to 3 feet of water over the roadway.

    Authorities in Cloquet evacuated campers in Spafford Park along the banks of the rapidly rising St. Louis River, according to the Pine Journal.

  • Both the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District and city of Duluth experienced sewage overflows because of the massive amount of rainwater infiltrating the sanitary sewage system. While the systems' new overflow tanks held during heavy rain in April and May, this record rainfall was simply too much, said Karen Anderson, WLSSD spokeswoman.

    "We don't even know the extent of it yet because it's too dangerous to be out checking in some spots,'' Anderson said.

    The city cautioned residents against playing in standing water, which might be contaminated by sewage.

    "People need to be extremely careful in these kinds of dangerous conditions," said the Rescue Squad's Crossmon. "It reminds me of last August, when a 13-year-old boy drowned in Amity Creek. Actually, this is far worse than anything we've seen before," he said.

    "We're still asking people to stay away from the water. People are getting in trouble when they venture out to look around," Crossmon said.

    News Tribune staff writers Brandon Stahl, Peter Passi, Jana Hollingsworth and Candace Renalls contributed to this report.

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