DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO/AP) – Duluth Mayor Don Ness has declared a state of emergency due to the serious flooding in his northeastern Minnesota city.
Ness issued the order late Wednesday morning. He says it helps communicate the severity of the problem to the public and starts the process of obtaining federal disaster aid. Gov. Mark Dayton has also signed a disaster declaration and authorized the National Guard to help Duluth cope with its flood damage.
The mayor says the city is encouraging people to stay home, both because of the amount of standing and rushing water from heavy rains overnight, and the difficulty in spotting hidden hazards. He says they're also discouraging anyone from traveling into the city and through the city, both for their personal safety and so that they stay out of the way of emergency and maintenance crews.
More than five inches of rain in less than 24 hours caused the major flooding, according to city officials.
Interstate 35 near Duluth was closed because flood waters made it impassable. The highway is now reopened from downtown Duluth, heading north.
Many roads in the city are also underwater, causing sink holes, mudslides and manhole covers to blow open, according to Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Erik Simonson. Portions of Highway 61 in the area are also closed because of flooding problems.
Many homes in the city also have flooded basements.
Authorities in Duluth are asking residents to remain at home and no travel is recommended at all, unless it is for emergency reasons only.
"Road conditions are terrible from one end to the city to the other," Simonson told WCCO-TV Wednesday morning. "We've got sink holes, we've got mudslides and we have manhole covers that have been blown off. We've got areas that are four to five feet underwater right now. It's a mess."
Duluth Police Official Jim Hansen Talks Flooding On WCCO
Animals At Zoo Killed By Floods
Several animals also escaped from their cages at the Lake Superior Zoo due to flooding. Simonson said the animals of greatest concern if they were free were bears, polar bears, lions and tigers. As of about 6:30 a.m., zoo officials said all big-game animals have been accounted for and a few small barnyard animals are unaccounted for. Zoo officials said there was no evidence that any animals left the property.
Zoo officials reported that several barnyard animals have died in the flooding and a polar bear that escaped from its enclosure was tranquilized.
Officials said two seals, Feisty and Vivian, escaped their exhibit at about 3 a.m. after Kingsbury Creek, which runs through the exhibit overflowed the more than 10-foot wall that normally keeps the seals in. The seals were eventually recovered and brought back to the exhibit.
One made its way to the street, while the other was found swimming in a creek. A man stopped his car in the street in front of the seal, until zoo officials could get to it.
Officials say three birds, six sheep, four goats and Ashley the donkey have died. There has never been flooding of this magnitude, and zoo officials say other exhibits can't be accessed due to flooding.
UW-Superior officials had planned to host orientation for incoming freshman on Wednesday, but all events have been canceled because the campus is flooded and has no power. The University of Minnesota-Duluth is also closed due to flooding, according to officials.
Heavy rainfall has continued throughout the morning, only making conditions worse throughout the city. Homes have been evacuated in low-lying areas, and Duluth Police, Duluth Fire and officials with the city of Duluth are coordinating efforts where needed.
The National Weather Service says flood warnings are in effect for St. Louis, Itasca, Aitkin, Cass, Cook Northern Lake, Pine, Crow Wing and Carlton Counties until noon.
2 State Parks Closed
Officials say the Floodwood River was at 20 feet and rising as of 7 a.m. Wednesday. The river has reached its banks and is flooding as heavy rain continues to cause problems in the area.
The St. Louis River near Scanlon has also risen more than seven feet since last night and is currently just above 13 feet. Crews are working to minimize the damage there, and the river is expected to rise to about 15.5 feet.
The DNR says Savanna Portage State Park near McGregor and Jay Cooke State Park near Carlton will be closed until further notice while officials assess the damage.
Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area near Ironton is also closed due to flooding.
Moose Lake State Park near Moose Lake has closed its campground due to a washout.
Officials in Carlton County are recommending no travel in the area unless it's absolutely necessary because of significant flooding in the area. Several roads are either under water or are nearly impassable.
The Carlton County Sheriff's Office has recommended an evacuation for residents in the small town of Thomson. The area is near Highway 210 from Vermillion Street to Dallas Avenue. The sheriff's office said emergency crews are available to assist in evacuations.
Red Cross Opens Shelters For Duluth Flood Evacuees
The Red Cross has opened two shelters for northeastern Minnesota residents displaced by flooding.
One is at the First United Methodist Church in Duluth, also known as the Copper Top Church for its distinctive pyramid-shaped roof. It's at 230 E. Skyline Parkway overlooking the city. The Red Cross is also staffing a shelter at Carlton High School in Carlton.
State emergency managers say there were 30 evacuees at the Duluth church and 40 at Carlton High School.
Duluth authorities asked residents of the low-lying Fond du Lac neighborhood along the St. Louis River in Duluth to evacuate Wednesday morning. Some residents in Thomson Township west of Duluth in Carlton County were also encouraged to leave. According to the National Weather Service, county authorities ordered the evacuation after a reservoir overflowed.
Dayton To Visit Duluth Thursday
Gov. Mark Dayton released the following Wednesday morning on the flooding in Duluth:
"This morning my thoughts are with our friends and neighbors in Duluth and the surrounding region, as they respond to major flooding," he said. "I have spoken to Duluth Mayor Don Ness and have offered all possible state assistance now and during the recovery. I will travel to Duluth tomorrow morning to discuss further how the state can help."
"Emergency crews are working hard to ensure public safety, while they begin the cleanup process. If you live or were planning to travel in the Duluth area, please follow their requests to stay off of affected roads and highways. Parts of Interstate 35 and Highway 23 are presently closed, as well as various local roads and streets. Please stay safe and allow the emergency crews to do their work."
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