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Bricks exploded in a blast pattern after lightning struck the chimney atop the three-story brick building at 1434 E. Superior St. on Sunday night. Stacey Harter, an architect with Architecture Advantage, surveys the damage Monday. The firm is housed in the building. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

Superior Street business mops up after lightning strike, storm damage

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As the sun started to break through the fog and clouds Monday morning, contractors scaled the fire escape on the back of the three-story, red-brick building at 1434 E. Superior St.

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They were there to survey the damage done by a lightning strike Sunday night that took down the building’s chimney and left a hole in the roof at the height of a violent storm — allowing the torrential rainfall to pour inside.

Melissa Graftaas, whose business — Architecture Advantage — is housed in the building, didn’t get a wink of sleep Sunday night. She feared the worst on her drive in and worked much of the night in salvage mode, cleaning up water damage.

By the time she went home early Monday to get ready for the workday, Graftaas was thinking how fortunate she was considering the massive damage caused by an arson fire last week at the landmark Traphagen House just a stone’s throw away.

“After seeing the fire across the street,” she said, “I’ve been telling myself, ‘Water’s OK’.”

The chimney of the building housing Architecture Advantage was struck by lightning about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, one of at least three structures in Duluth to be hit by lightning in a little over an hour. The chimney was destroyed, leaving behind a stump of masonry and a hole in the roof. Rainwater “filtered through apartments on the second and third floors,” Graftaas said. She described it as “raining” over the company’s work stations on the main floor, just inside the street-side entrance on the east end of the building.

Graftaas moved her business from London Road to Superior Street in July 2013. In just over a year, she said, the company grew well into its uniquely designed space, featuring staggered floors that allow for work and office spaces to be separated by a few stairs. A stone doorway greets visitors to the business’s offices. The building is perfect for Graftaas’ six-person staff and design team, she said, and credited building owner Maggie Flowers with its style.

For years, Flowers’ interior design company, Maggie Flowers & Co., was housed in the more-than-century-old building. Before that it was a bakery, the Patty Cake Shop, from 1952 to 1999.

Flowers still owns the building. Asked about the two private apartments directly above the main floor, she said, “They’re OK.”

“It is what it is and I have to deal with it,” Flowers continued.

The water in the building never reached more than half-inch to an inch deep, but it required the removal of dozens of carpet tiles, which were stacked outside the back door on Monday. Graftaas said she hoped to protect the veneer cement floors from further water damage.

She said a half-dozen computers probably were ruined, but two others survived. The company’s main computer server was OK, and backup systems keep updated data saved nightly.

Only a few hand-drawn blueprints were affected, but were already in the drying process.

The whole main floor was attended to by industrial driers and dehumidifiers. As she pointed to the spots between the original tin ceiling tiles where the water rained down, Graftaas was asked about having second thoughts about her business’s new home.

“Not at all,” she said. “We love it here.”

Two other lightning strikes Duluth firefighters responded to two other lightning-strike incidents on Sunday night. No one was injured in any of the strikes.

The first, at 6124 Greene St. in West Duluth about 8:45 p.m., involved a lightning strike that knocked out power but did not cause a fire.

The other was at a home at 328 W. Owatonna St. in the Woodland neighborhood, where lightning struck the chimney about 9:55 p.m. The strike caused a large hole in the roof and started a fire in a second-floor bedroom. Damage was estimated at $40,000.

Heavy rain In addition to the nearly constant thunder and lightning, Sunday night’s storms brought heavy rain to much of the Northland. The National Weather Service reported rain totals of 3 inches or more in parts of Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland and Iron counties.

In Duluth, gauges operated by the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District reported rainfall of in excess of 2 inches an hour at times, and total rainfall of more than 2½ inches in Duluth’s Endion neighborhood. The runoff caused minor street flooding and popped a few manhole covers.

But it was a localized event in Duluth; just a few miles away, the Duluth airport received less than a half-inch of rain, the National Weather Service reported.

After the rough start, expect quiet weather for the rest of the week. The forecast for the Twin Ports calls for partly to mostly sunny skies and highs in the upper 60s to low 70s through Friday.

Sunday rain totals Maple: 4.0”

Ashland (3 miles S): 3.40”

Ashland airport: 3.16”

Saxon: 3.04”

Washburn: 2.93”

Wrenshall: 2.64”

Duluth (Endion neighborhood): 2.58”

Oulu: 2.37”

Superior: 2.25”

Duluth (WLSSD plant): 1.91”

Gile: 1.42”

Brule: 1.31”

Hermantown: 1.13”

Deer River: 1.11”

Hawthorne: 1.07”

Hayward: 1.03”

Grand Portage: 0.91”

Two Harbors: 0.83”

Rice Lake: 0.82”

Floodwood: 0.70”

Duluth airport: 0.43”

International Falls: 0.29”

Sources: National Weather Service, WLSSD

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