By MPR News staff
DULUTH, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Public Safety asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday to send teams to assess the damage caused by flooding in northeast Minnesota.
The agency's request is a necessary step if the state is going to pursue a presidential disaster declaration, which would provide more federal aid for disaster victims. It will include an assessment of damages in 14 Minnesota counties and the territory of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe. The teams are expected to be in the region early next week.
Communities in northeast Minnesota continued to struggle with flooding and its aftermath on Thursday evening.
Gov. Mark Dayton toured flood-damaged areas in Duluth with local and state officials a day after rains of 5 to 10 inches caused widespread flooding.
"The fact that no one's died, the fact there hasn't been a serious injury, is remarkable," Dayton said. "The effort that's gone in to minimize the damage and to get people who are in harm's way out and safe has been exceptional."
Authorities are still assessing damage, but state officials put the preliminary cost of infrastructure repairs in northeast Minnesota at above $110 million. St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson says 3,000 square miles were flooded. He estimated damage to county roads at $30 million.
• Area impacted (St. Louis County): 3,000 square miles
• Estimated cost of damage (Duluth): Up to $80 million
• Estimated cost of damage (total): Up to $110 million
• Estimated cost of county road damage: $30 million
• Number of displaced Duluth-area residents: 250
• Number of Duluth-area residents in shelters: 185
• Serious injuries/deaths: None
Duluth Mayor Don Ness estimated damage to city infrastructure alone will reach at least $50 million and perhaps as much $80 million. He said there's still standing water in the city's Fond du Lac neighborhood.
"We have to try to assess the condition of the roadbed, and whether or not these roads are in danger of collapse," Ness said. "That's why you'll see these barricades up on a large number of streets, we're suspecting that there might be some damage."
Duluth Chief Administrative Officer Dave Montgomery said a more accurate assessment of the damage is the first step in applying for emergency disaster relief from the state and federal government.
Minnesota's Department of Emergency Management said about 250 residents and two campgrounds have been evacuated. About 25 households have also been evacuated from Willow River.
About 185 residents took shelter last night in three evacuation centers. Shelters are currently located at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School, the Scanlon Community Center and Duluth's Secondary Technical Center, according to the Red Cross.
The Red Cross expects to have 7-10 emergency relief trucks in the impacted communities within the coming days, said Red Cross spokesperson Lynette Nyman. She said about 80 Red Cross workers or volunteers are already there or on their way. They'll be handing out food and clean water, as well as staffing emergency shelters.
NORTHEAST MINNESOTA FLOODS • Map: Duluth, North Shore flooding
• Closures: Highways, Duluth streets, state parks
• Photos: Duluth, northeast Minnesota awash
• Photos: Gooseberry Falls at full trottle
• Photos: The wake of the flood
• Story: Some zoo animals perish, others rescued
• Story: Cell phone, 911, cable out in Arrowhead
• Story: Rural areas cut off
Other communities in the region are also dealing with flood-related issues.
Moose Lake, a town of 2,800 about 40 miles southwest of Duluth, has declared a state of emergency. The State Emergency Operations Center reports that the city has become "an island surrounded by flood water" on Thursday afternoon, due to flooding from the Moose Horn River.
State officials report that Moose Lake's sewage plant has been flooded, and that the sewage treatment system is offline. City administrator Mark Vahlsing said Thursday that at least 30 percent of Moose Lake is flooded. Floodwaters that flowed from the north and west after heavy rains Tuesday and Wednesday breached homes and businesses, and forced the closing of a major highway bridge over an inlet into Moosehead Lake.
Ashley Halverson spent Wednesday and Thursday filling sandbags in Moose Lake.
"I actually live in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. My family's from here and my grandma's basement was completely under water along with everybody else along the lakeshore," Halverson said. "A lot of the volunteers have been here for two days though, just nonstop."
Mercy Hospital and Augustana Mercy Health Care Center in the city are engaged in contingency planning, up to and including evacuation if necessary, according to state officials. Prisoners at the Moose Lake state correctional facility will take shelter in the facility in case of evacuation. Patients at the Moose Lake Regional Treatment Center will also stay in the facility.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.