Listen MPR 50: Torrential rains in Duluth
Listen From the archive: Lake Superior Zoo director of guest services on animal escape in 2012
Jun 19, 2017
Listen From the archives: Dan Kraker reports on flooding in Duluth in 2012
Jun 19, 2017
Throughout 2017, Minnesota Public Radio will celebrate 50 years on the air by sharing highlights from our archives, connecting Minnesota's past to its present. | These stories originally aired in 2012, as MPR reporters covered a flood in Duluth.
Five years ago, over 10 inches of rain fell in Duluth over a 24-hour period, nearly doubling the city's record for rainfall in a day.
The heavy rain overwhelmed sanitary sewers, resulting in untreated sewage entering Lake Superior, and caused widespread flash flooding. Roads were closed as they became unstable and hundreds of people were evacuated in Duluth and the surrounding areas.
But one of the hardest hit places was the Lake Superior Zoo. Kingsbury Creek, which runs through the zoo's grounds, flooded several exhibits, making them inaccessible. But it wasn't until someone reported seeing a seal in the middle of Grand Avenue in Duluth that zoo officials even knew it was flooding. The zoo has since established round-the-clock security.
• 2013: Duluth zoo plans upgrades
"We did have two seals escape this morning, Vivian and Feisty. They were relatively easily corralled, and they are secure and they are safe and they are in their holding again," said Susan Wolniakowski, the zoo's director of guest services, the morning of their escape. "And that was our first clue that the zoo was flooding actually."
The seal sighting triggered a frantic search for any other animals on the loose. While she didn't manage to get off zoo grounds, a polar bear, named Berlin, did escape her enclosure.
"Berlin did get out of her exhibit, she did not get very far before the zoo keepers found her and she was able to be tranquilized," Wolniakowski said.
Zoo keepers worked almost nonstop, clearing debris and looking for animals over the next 20 hours.
Eleven animals from the zoo's barnyard exhibit died during the flood — including a miniature donkey, several goats and sheep, a turkey vulture and a snowy owl.
No people were killed or seriously injured during the flood. Since then, Duluth has replaced some of its culverts with wider ones that can handle a higher volume of water. The city has also installed upgrades to its sewer and wastewater systems.
To listen to reporting from the 2012 flood, click the audio players above.
Correction (June 20, 2017): A previous version of this story included incorrect information about the number and type of animals that escaped enclosures. The story has been updated.