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John Lundy, Forum Communications, Published June 22 2012

Some Duluth residents impatient with city after massive flood

DULUTH, Minn. – Two days after their historic far-western Duluth neighborhood was cut off from the rest of the city by unprecedented flooding, some Fond du Lac neighborhood residents were growing impatient with what they termed a lack of communication from the city.

“We haven’t been told what’s going on,” said Teresa O’Leary, who lives on Sixth Street in a higher portion of the neighborhood. “There’s nothing that’s been on the news saying, ‘In Fond du Lac, if you’re out there, this is what’s happening, this is what we’re trying to do.’ Or, ‘We’re assessing the situation.’ It was kind of like just left out here and no communication.”

The city was working to remedy the situation. Late on Friday, city police set up a mobile command post at state Highway 23 and 130th Avenue West, in the heart of the city’s oldest neighborhood. They promised officers would staff it around the clock with information and assistance for residents. Bottled water will be provided, and the Red Cross will serve meals at noon today and Sunday.

The major source of frustration for residents was getting in and out of the neighborhood. The only way in and out is on state Highway 23, which is under fast-moving water west of the St. Louis River bridge. On the east side, about 200 feet of the road is still under shallow water and mud; otherwise, the road is dry.

On Thursday, residents were being allowed to drive in and out. But later in the day, the Minnesota Department of Transportation ordered the road closed. On Friday afternoon, police manned a barricade at the west end of the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood, allowing only residents who showed identification access. But they were allowed to drive only as far as Perch Lake, several hundred feet east of the neighborhood. From there people were traveling back and forth on ATV, by bicycle or on foot. Anyone who drove out of the neighborhood wasn’t being allowed to drive back.

Residents complained that instead of getting solid information they were hearing rumors: The road would be closed for one week. It would be closed for two weeks. They’d be forced to evacuate.

“We just hear all kinds of rumors,” said Jennifer Ferguson, who lives on Ninth Street. “We don’t know what’s going on. You kind of feel that it’s like New Orleans where people don’t know what’s going on.”

Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said now that the command post is established police will do their best to answer residents’ questions. But they simply don’t know when the road will be reopened.

“We’re relying on the engineers and the experts to tell us where people can go on the roads,” Ramsay said. “Many roads have been washed out underneath, and you just can’t see it.”

A mandatory evacuation is possible if there’s a heavy rain, Ramsay said.

“We’re working to establish what amount of rain could potentially bring that water level back up,” Ramsay said. “Anything more than a quarter of an inch would be a concern.”

Earlier Friday, at the Gary-New Duluth and Perch Lake checkpoints, some residents who had evacuated were returning to their cars after checking on their homes.

Mike Cochran had stopped to check on his house on Water Street. Cochran, along with his wife, son and daughter, drove out of Fond du Lac in their three cars about 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday, but only two of the cars made it through. “It was surreal,” Cochran said. “Mission Creek was flowing right over the top of Highway 23, and it wasn’t your ordinary Mission Creek, it was a raging torrent.”

Cochran had tried twice before to get back to the house but succeeded for the first time on Friday, wading through chest-deep water. “It’s going to be just brutal cleaning it up,” he said.

Lundy writes for the Duluth News Tribune

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