Moose Lake residents survey damage as flood waters recede

Moose Lake flood
Cullen Raasch, left, and Kevin Murphy kayak through flooded streets in Moose Lake, Minn. Thursday afternoon after flood waters inundated the town.
Derek Montgomery for MPR

As the cleanup gets under way in Duluth after this week's flooding, portions of some towns south and west of the city are still under water.

Residents in Moose Lake watched Friday as the water began receding, giving people a first look at the damage to homes.

Some streets and homes were still flooded in the city of 2,700 people, where many spent the better part of the last two days filling sandbags and doing all they could to fend off rising water.

By most accounts Friday was a better day. Roads that were submerged and unpassable Thursday were slowing clearing out. But there's still a lot of water in town.

"The basement is full to the top. I have lived there 55 years and I've never, ever had to deal with this," said Annette Dahlmeier, who's house sat surrounded by water.

Like others in town, Dahlmeier doesn't have flood insurance — and the timing is especially hard for her.

"I just lost my husband a year ago, so this is a second blow to me," she said.

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Standing in a dry spot in her neighbor's yard looking at her house, Dahlmeier says she plans to go with her son to Minneapolis "for a while." She clutches two photos of her husband wrapped in a plastic bag.

"If anybody should get into my house this was the most important thing, so I'm taking it with me," she said.

Once the water backs away from her house she'll be able to start pumping water out of the basement. But right now her future is uncertain — and that's the case for many around town.

Moose Lake Police Chief Bryce Bogenholm said the emergency response is shifting to more of a clean up effort.

"Right now the water is going down," he said. "It's gone down about 6 inches. They think it's going down about 2 inches an hour ... We're deploying all our assets into pumping basements, getting the gas shut off and just doing our best to assess the situation as far as damage."

Bogenholm said so far the damage appears to be well into the millions of dollars. In at least one spot a pump was emptying diluted sewage out of the flooded sewers into a park, but the city water is still safe to drink.

The school succumbed to flooding. While the sandbags held, the sewer system backed up in the building, filling parts of the school with anywhere between and few inches and a few feet of water.

Moose Lake High School doesn't have flood insurance, but because the sewer was involved they can get about $75,000 in coverage — a figure that's not even close to covering repair costs.

"We're just trying to minimize the damage," said Bob Indihar, the high school's principal and soon-to-be superintendent. "We have a bunch of books here and we've been told that just the humidity alone will just wreck these books."

Indihar said people are stopping by to help with whatever they can — a common theme that's played out over and over again with friends and neighbors around town. And something that's sure continue as the community looks towards rebuilding.


Rutledge, Minn., is a town of about 230 people that sits at the confluence of the Kettle and Pine Rivers, 55 miles south of Duluth.

More than a dozen homes here are surrounded by water from the raging Kettle River. That water is receding, but not fast enough for Terry DeRungs. The town's former mayor watched the flash flood sweep over her yard in just minutes late Thursday morning. It now encircles her home and is rushing over the road out front.

"I was just running from window to window, and going outside because it was coming here so fast. I didn't know what to do. I was here alone... I just can't believe it. We've been here over 36 years and this has never happened.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, DeRungs was able to round up neighbors to help her fill about 400 sandbags, which are stacked two high around her house. DeRungs said the water dropped a few inches Friday, and she hopes the community has seen the worst of this flood.

"There's water seeping into my basement, anyway. We've got three pumps running there but the ground was so saturated, and I think because I'm circled by water it's putting pressure on," DeRungs said. "We're pumping it out, but it's not really doing anything."

Similar stories play out in small communities up and down the riverways of Pine, Carlton, St. Louis and other surrounding counties.

Thursday night a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescued five people from raging water in the small town of Thomson in Carlton County, where many residents had been evacuated a day earlier. State public safety officials say the town of Barnum, with 600 residents, has also been completely evacuated.

But the worst of the rolling floods may be over. The National Weather Service said the water has been moving south, but is also receding. It appears no major towns are in harm's way before the waters reach the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. Because the southern part of the state didn't get those heavy rains this week, the larger rivers will be only moderately affected.

In the town of Aitkin, a few businesses are sandbagging as local residents prepare for a crest of between 19 and-a-half and 20 and-a-half feet early next week.

In soggy Rutledge in northern Pine County, Lance Gockowski stops by the manufactured home he evacuated Thursday with his wife and four boys. Rutledge says he knows he will recover from the flood, but he dreads the cleanup that will have to done in the coming weeks.

The backyard is a total mess. I've got logs jammed up from who knows where. I've got debris just like crazy, and who knows how far upriver that came from," Gockowski said. "I mean, just look at right here alone. There's tires and lumber and, you name it."

Rain is forecast for the area tomorrow, but it's not expected to be enough to produce more flooding.