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Associated Press, Published June 22 2012

Hundreds evacuated in NE Minn; floodwaters recede

MINNEAPOLIS — As floodwaters in northeastern Minnesota receded Friday, state officials got a closer look at some of the damage and kept a watchful eye on communities downriver of Duluth — where hundreds of people have been evacuated.

The St. Louis River crested earlier in the week, but a chance for rain and thunderstorms Saturday could create problems for storm drainage systems and infrastructure already overwhelmed by this week's record rainfall.

"We are looking at some rain in the forecast, so we are definitely not out of the woods yet," said Amanda Graning, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth. "Any kind of strong thunderstorm could pose some more problems, but they should be short-term problems."

Doug Neville, a spokesman for Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said authorities were focusing Friday's efforts on southern Carleton County and northern Pine County, as water worked its way downriver.

Rutledge seemed to be in the path of rising water Friday, Neville said.

"We have staff en route to Rutledge to assess what is going on there," Neville said.

Damages from the flood are expected to exceed $100 million, and flood warnings remained in effect on Friday.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack were touring the area Friday.

Residents who evacuated Barnum, which has a population of about 590, were being allowed back into the city Friday as water levels went down, said Dan Danielson, an investigator with the Carleton County Sheriff's Office. The total number of evacuees was unknown due to conflicting information on whether the whole city had been evacuated.

Thomson, which has about 170 residents, was also evacuated Thursday, and people remained displaced Friday.

Danielson said the sheriff's office recommended that everyone in Thomson evacuate "because of the potential for danger and the high amounts of water." The situation remained unchanged on Friday. Five Thomson residents had to be rescued by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter a day earlier.

About 25 households were evacuated in Moose Lake, too, where some neighborhoods were accessible only by boat. Floodwaters engulfed the high school, an RV park and campground.

About 200 residents of Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood also remained displaced Friday. Duluth police spokesman Jim Hansen said officials were working on a plan to allow residents to return by Monday.

"We are certainly empathetic to those folks," Hansen said.

Neville said authorities recommend evacuations based on safety issues, such as dangerous rising water, inaccessible roads or a loss of infrastructure. Minnesota does not allow mandatory evacuations.

Gov. Mark Dayton has already committed to providing state resources, and damage assessment teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are expected to be in the area next week. A disaster declaration would release federal and state government funds for assistance programs for victims and affected communities.

The rise and fall of floodwaters has been unpredictable after as much as 10 inches of rain fell in some areas on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The St. Louis River was 15.9 feet Friday — more than 5 feet above flood stage — at Scanlon; it crested at 16.62 feet Thursday. The record crest was 15.8 feet, set in 1950.

"There is still significant flooding going on, but it does appear the rivers have crested and are starting their way back down," Graning said.

It was recommended that people have no contact with water in Lake Superior due to runoff from the floods.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.