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Michelle Turnberg, Published June 30 2012

Turnberg: It’s time to help Duluth

If you have lived in the Red River Valley for any amount of time you know the uneasy feeling that comes with the spring snowmelt or severe rains. The water comes; we keep vigil over our sump pumps, and wait. The levels steadily rise, wreak havoc and eventually recede.

How we experience flooding is nothing like what the residents of Duluth endured last week.

I drove from Fargo to Duluth June 15, the day before Grandma’s Marathon. The drive is beautiful, meandering through the lake and forest country of northern Minnesota. The weather was sunny and nice, hot for the “city on the lake,” with temps hovering in the 80s. It was clearly the start of a wonderful weekend.

As we lined up for the start of the race Saturday morning, the weather was cooperating with conditions about as good as one could wish for. As we made our way from Two Harbors to Canal Park it got hot, then clouds rolled in, along with cooler temps. But as we left Sunday the sun was shining, the water of Lake Superior sparkling brightly. Twenty-six-point-two miles had been endured and all was well.

Just a couple days later, it began to rain, and the Duluth area found itself in the midst of the worst flash-flood to hit the North Shore in at least 40 years. By some accounts it may have been the worst the area has ever seen.

Most of us have seen the images showing the disaster; photos of AWOL seals, cratered roads, and water-swept houses. News reports told of the disaster at the zoo with many animals having drowned and escaped.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness says the infrastructure in the city has been so thoroughly damaged that it will take weeks, if not months, to fully understand the extent of the damage.

The Duluth disaster is not unlike the storm event that happened in Fargo back in June 2000. More than 7 inches of rain fell in eight hours leaving more than half of Fargo flooded. I remember calling home from our honeymoon, worried that all of our wedding gifts in the garage were ruined.

Fargo engineers say such a heavy rain eventually overwhelms the storm system and because of the region’s flat terrain. I once heard an official describe flooding here like water on a cookie sheet, it simply spreads out.

The floods affected Duluth in a different way. The hilly terrain forced the water down streets, tore up pavement and washed out roads entirely. Bridges were swept away, sidewalks crumbled and houses quickly became inundated with water. In Duluth, the floodwaters were mostly gone within 24 hours after the rain stopped, but the damage was severe.

In Fargo, the water would likely have lingered for days. However, the after effects are familiar, as the exhausting cleanup and rebuilding begins.

Duluth now needs the same blessings the people of Fargo have so frequently received: the selfless giving of others. Volunteers from around the country rallied around Fargo and cities up and down the valley when we flooded.

It’s our turn to lend a hand. Because what goes around comes around –and we know spring will be here again soon enough.

Michelle Turnberg writes a weekly column for SheSays.