Thursday update on flood damage in Lake CountyA state of emergency has been declared and Lake County is facing an estimated $7 million in damages following the torrential rains that created unprecedented flooding along the North Shore Tuesday and Wednesday.
By: Tom Olsen, Lake County News-Chronicle
A state of emergency has been declared and Lake County is facing an estimated $7 million in damages following the torrential rains that created unprecedented flooding along the North Shore Tuesday and Wednesday.
"This is the one natural disaster I thought we'd never have to worry about," said Lake County Emergency Management Director B.J. Kohlstedt, noting that the county has dealt with tornadoes, wildfires and ice storms in recent years.
Sinkholes, collapsed culverts and overflowed ditches have affected approximately 25 percent of the county road system and 50 percent of forestry road.
The county has used every sign, cone and barrier it has to close roads, Lake County Highway Engineer Al Goodman said.
The county board declared a state of emergency Thursday morning and the joined the effort to seek a presidential declaration of a major disaster, which would entitle the region to federal aid.
"There was no loss of life and no serious injury. Businesses are all open and tourists are still coming as planned," County Administrator Matt Huddleston said. "There are a lot of people we need to commend for this effort."
Gov. Mark Dayton, who will likely decide whether or not to seek federal aid, was in Duluth Thursday morning to assess the damage and meet with local politicians, including Lake County Board Chairman Rich Sve, who brought along photographs of the county's damage.
Goodman estimates it should take about six weeks to fully repair the county's roads, while traffic over two bridges, one the Clark Road bridge over Silver Creek and the other a bridge on County Highway 124, will be detoured for approximately a year to repair damages.
The Highway 61 expressway over the Knife River remains closed until a structural assessment can be completed, but county officials are optimistic that the bridge should reopen soon. The Marina Road bridge over the river near the Scenic Highway in Knife River also remained closed Thursday. The main bridge there is open, meaning drivers on the expressway can use it to get around the closed bridge.
The Knife River area was perhaps the hardest hit area in Lake County. Crews continue to clean up fallen trees along the roadway and ditches that flooded near the river.
The only evacuations needed were in Knife River, where residents of four houses along the river had to leave, according to Sheriff Carey Johnson. An elderly couple originally declined to leave their home at the sheriff's suggestion and deputies later had to rescue them by boat.
"The response (to emergency calls and road damages) went very well," Johnson said. "We had great response from deputies and emergency workers, but also from other people, from residents who helped out."
Kohlstedt said the American Red Cross contacted her, but the county has not needed its services, due in large part to the fact that there were no power outages and sump pumps were able to keep houses largely free of water.
A broken communications line left much of Lake County without 911 service, internet access, telephone and cell coverage from Tuesday night until Wednesday afternoon, making it tougher for emergency workers to respond to issues.
"Communication is absolutely necessary in any emergency," Kohlstedt said. "We are very lucky no one was killed or seriously injured."
The county's new digital emergency alert system worked flawlessly and emergency responders were able to comment through ham radio, Kohlstedt said.
County Commissioner Paul Bergman requested that Frontier Communications meet with the board soon to discuss how to prevent the loss of communications in the event of another broken line.
Kohlstedt and Bergman said that the county's burgeoning fiber project, which is currently stalled by a telephone pole ownership dispute, should prevent complete losses of communication, which have been frequent in the county in recent years.