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After flood, zoo animals escape; some perish

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Zoo seal on Grand Avenue
This seal is one of two that escaped from the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth during last night's floods. It was photographed on Grand Avenue. Zoo officials say the seals were returned safely.
Courtesy of Kelli Latuska

Two seals escaped from the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth early this morning and 11 barnyard animals drowned after heavy rains flooded the facility and surrounding areas. 

The zoo's polar bear, Berlin, also escaped from her exhibit area, but Susan Wolniakowski, the zoo's director of guest services, said that "rumors that the polar bear was out and wandering Duluth" were incorrect.

"She did not get very far before the zookeepers found her and she was able to be tranquilized," she said. "She is also safe and secure and in her holding area."

Zoo officials are still trying to determine if other animals escaped or died in the flood, but they have not been able to reach all of the exhibits. 

"The middle of the zoo is a pond," said zoo spokesperson Keely Johnson, who estimates that about two-thirds of the zoo remains submerged in flood waters as of noon Wednesday.

Johnson said the 11 barnyard animals that died "just kind of swept away in the flood."

Zoo officials did not realize the facility was flooded until one of the seals was spotted on Grand Avenue in Duluth at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. The zoo's director of animal management responded, and zoo employees transported both seals back to their holding areas. Neither seal appears to have been injured, zoo officials said.

Duluth received more than 5 inches of rain from 7 a.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday. The flood waters crept across roads, pushed debris into the storm water system, and prompted the evacuation of low-lying areas. No serious injuries have been reported.