Flood recovery is entering a new phase, officials said on Saturday.
“We’ve gone truly from a disaster and life-rescue response, to now it’s a mitigation,” said David Phillips, undersheriff for the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office. Agencies will work together, he said, to “help us get a handle on how do we rebuild this and make our area safe again.”
Phillips spoke during a news conference on Saturday afternoon that reflected the complexity of managing the flooding that has pummeled the region. Representatives of the city of Duluth, the Fire and Police departments, St. Louis County, the Red Cross, United Way 211 and the National Weather Service were among those who spoke at the Evergreen Senior Center in West Duluth.
Officials spoke of progress as waters slowly recede. Even in the hard-hit Fond du Lac neighborhood, residents were pumping water out of their basements and clearing debris from their yards on Saturday, Duluth chief administrative officer Dave Montgomery said.
The Duluth police command post has been established on state Highway 23 in Fond du Lac and is being staffed by a police officer, a firefighter and a clerical officer, said Lt. Leigh Wright of the Duluth Police Department.
“It is still a mess down there,” Montgomery said. “The water is still very, very high.”
The situation on roads throughout the region remains in flux.
Jim Foldesi, St. Louis County public works director, said the number of roads closed in the southern half of the county had actually increased, to 93, within the previous day and a half. “That highlights how this event is still ongoing at this point,” he said. “That water is still going through the drainage systems. We’re having more roads being closed than opened.”
Sixty bridges are closed, comprising 10 percent of the county’s bridge inventory, Foldesi said. Four of those bridges have vanished.
Several officials warned of dangers in the coming days. People should avoid being taken advantage of by scammers, Wright said. Residents with questions about the legitimacy of contractors were encouraged to call the Minnesota Department of Labor at (800) 657-3944.
Residents also were urged not to bypass barricades and to avoid standing water, which could contain sewage.
Elsewhere around the region: The Carlton County Sheriff’s Office announced on Saturday that drinking water in Moose Lake is safe. Reports that the city’s water has been contaminated are false, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. The Red Cross Scanlon shelter closed on Saturday. Judy Hanne Gonzalez, executive director of the Northland Chapter of the Red Cross, said the shelter had no occupants on Friday night. The Duluth shelter at the Secondary Technical Center adjacent to the old Central High School at 802 E. Central Entrance remains open for anyone needing shelter or Red Cross services. A center to coordinate volunteers and donations to help Carlton County flood victims opened at 7 a.m. on Saturday at the Cloquet National Guard Armory, the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office announced. The center will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Its phone number is (218) 384-1112. A segment of Interstate 35 just south of Duluth will close temporarily for emergency road repairs on Tuesday morning, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The closure will be from 5:30 a.m. to about 8:30 a.m. from the southbound I-35 on-ramp at Carlton County Road 61 near the Buffalo House to Scanlon. The closure will affect both north- and southbound lanes. The National Weather Service has extended the flood warning for the Moose Lake, Willow River, Sandstone and Kettle River areas until 2 p.m. Monday. At midday Saturday, law enforcement officials reported that although water levels had started to drop a bit, flooding still was taking place in the city of Moose Lake around Moosehead Lake, and downstream along the Moose Horn and Kettle rivers. The Kettle River reached a level of 17.96 feet last week, shattering the old record of 15.38 feet, set in 1972. The river had fallen to 14.86 feet as of midday Saturday. Flood warnings remain in effect for the Floodwood, Brookston, Cloquet, Scanlon, Thomson and Fond du Lac areas into today. Flooding still was occurring in those areas on Saturday, with an evacuation notice still in place for Thomson. The St. Louis River at Scanlon was at 15.06 feet — still major flood stage — at midday Saturday, down from its record crest of 16.62 feet earlier in the week. The river is forecast to stay nearly steady, or even slightly rise over the next few days, the Weather Service reported. The Mississippi River at Aitkin continues to rise, and was at 17.8 feet — moderate flood stage — on Saturday morning. It’s forecast to crest between 18.5 and 19.5 feet — major flood stage — during the middle of the coming week. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that the water level on Big Sandy Lake, north of McGregor, is expected to crest near a record high. The lake’s water level was reported to be at an elevation of 1,220.5 feet on Friday, and rising. A flood warning continues through this morning for southern Ashland County in Northwestern Wisconsin, especially in the Glidden and Butternut areas where state Highway 13 had been closed at times over the past few days because of high water.
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