Heavy rain, raging waters24-hour storm of pounding rain tears up roads and anything in water’s path along Shore.
By: News-Chronicle, Lake County News Chronicle
A storm of historic proportions hit already soggy Lake County and much of northeastern Minnesota Tuesday and Wednesday as rain totals of up to 10 inches fell in less than 24 hours.
The damage in Lake County came mainly on the roads where its many streams and river pass under. Major infrastructure damage was done in Duluth and areas around it and a state of emergency was declared.
The Lake County Board of Commissioners was set to meet Thursday morning to assess damage and declare an emergency of its own.
Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson said “this is worse” Wednesday afternoon after a conversation with deputies comparing storms they’d seen along the North Shore. The devastating results from heavy rain Tuesday and Wednesday left more of a mark than the Fourth of July storm in 1999 that has since become known as the “blowdown,” Johnson said.
Nearly 24 hours of torrential rain swelled every waterway along the North Shore and left many roads closed due to water running over them or because they had breaches where everything was washed away.
Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley said the 24-hour rainfall totals fell upon a landscape ripe for flooding as past rain has saturated the ground.
“The focal point for the heavy rain was north of a slow moving warm front draped across central Minnesota,” Seeley said. “Waves of thunderstorms developed and affected areas from Brainerd to Duluth, with southern St. Louis County and Carlton County hit especially hard.”
Internet, phone and 911 service was restored by early afternoon in Lake County and Johnson gave one of the first reports on conditions in the county shortly after. The same fiber line that was severed in early 2010 was damaged again near Knife River, knocking out all communication up the Shore for several hours Wednesday.
Carrie Amann from CenturyLink said its service went out sometime overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.
“Crews began working immediately to address service issues and to communicate alternative 911 information to the public,” Amann said.
Local calls were able to be made provided the caller was calling within their service exchange area.
“The flooding and blocked roads caused some troubles for technicians to get to locations, but they were able to safely work with local authorities to get to the sites and restore service,” Amann said.
CenturyLink provides service to Silver Bay, Two Harbors, Finland, Grand Marais, Grand Portage, Hovland, Tofte and the Gunflint Trail.
Scenic Highway 61 was closed as several areas of roadway remained flooded from Larsmont to Knife River. That was the worst hit area north of Duluth, Johnson said.
Five homes were searched and people evacuated, Johnson said, as the river rose to dangerous levels.
The Highway 61 Expressway was also closed for most of the day Wednesday as inspectors want to look at the bridge at Knife River for damage. Water threatened to top over the expressway there, Johnson said, but has receded. It will be opened once the bridge is deemed safe.
There was a seven-mile detour off the expressway set up on the Homestead Road and Stanley Road but those roads in the highlands were deteriorating quickly as rain continued to fall Wednesday morning.
“There are no shoulders left,” Johnson said.
Johnson said areas inland from Lake Superior and around Silver Bay fared better. There are roadsides washed away up Highway 61 from Two Harbors and Minnesota Department of Transportation officials were looking at them Wednesday morning. The road was closed Tuesday night near the Silver Cliff tunnel because the Silver Creek was running over the road. The area was open again by the morning.
“Our highway department has a heck of a job ahead of them,” Johnson said.
Bays on Lake Superior were hit hard. The temporary landing at Burlington Bay, set up last year during reconstruction of the landing in Agate Bay near downtown Two Harbors, was mostly eroded. Flood Bay up the shore was littered with debris, including whole trees on their way out to sea to meet others bobbing on the horizon.
Johnson said the biggest frustration of the day was the loss of communication.
“We wanted to make sure people could get in touch with us,” he said.
The county patched service through other counties and used a standing policy of making sure emergency personnel were stationed at fire halls.
If there is any levity to be found in the torrential and ultimately terrifying rain storm, being stranded at Betty’s Pies would be it.
Sheriff Johnson said Wednesday that Minnesota Highway 61 was closed shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday as water rolled out of Silver Creek just south of the Silver Cliff tunnel.
Motorists had no option but to wait things out at Betty’s Pies or struggle to return to Two Harbors as sheets of rain came down.
Others were scrambling. Superior Shores Resort closer to Two Harbors had water streaming into its front doors from the parking lot. An employee there said that at one time the lobby area and adjacent rooms were under a few inches of water. Some employees spent the night.
The newest and most popular tourist attraction on the North Shore is now in Knife River as the oldest bridge over its namesake river is gouged and strewn with trees uprooted from the heavy rain that had the river well over its banks Wednesday.
You can’t miss the throngs that are visiting the bridge because the bridge over the Knife River at the Highway 61 Expressway is closed until inspectors can safely inspect it for any possible damage. The detour around the bridge goes through Knife River.
Water was raging underneath the expressway bridge late Wednesday afternoon. The detour off the expressway is toward the lake and onto Scenic Highway 61, which is now mostly open. There are water spots in the Larsmont area, but drivers can get back on the expressway after crossing the river in Knife River.