Return home stuns Thomson residentsThe rising floodwaters forced most of the 153 residents of this Carlton County community to evacuate their homes last week.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
THOMSON — The rising floodwaters forced most of the 153 residents of this Carlton County community to evacuate their homes last week.
On Sunday, they began to trickle back.
Kim Price came to help her parents — Armas and Donna Koski — clean up the home in which she was raised. When she got there, she was overwhelmed by the scene.
“It’s devastating,” Price said. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
Her 76-year-old father said he’s not certain the house can be salvaged. Armas Koski has called the Vermillion Street residence home for 47 years — before the St. Louis River floodwaters completely filled his basement, causing the building to shift on its foundation and pushing out a wall of his garage.
Even after the water was pumped out, his basement was still filled with 3 to 4 feet of muck.
Thomson Mayor Larry St. Germaine said that at least 20 of the town’s 120 homes are likely to be declared total losses. The sight of buckled roads and neighbors moving the ruined contents of their homes to the roadside was enough to move St. Germaine, a 61-year-old native of the city, to tears.
Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said a lot of residents were having a difficult time coming to terms with all they had lost to the flood that began Tuesday.
“Today was the first day many of these people have been able to access their homes, and they’re beginning the long road to recovery,” she said.
Thomson residents were asked to voluntarily evacuate, and most agreed to go. But Lake said several stayed, among them at least three later rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, via helicopter, as the overflowing Thomson reservoir enveloped the community.
Armas Koski initially refused to leave Tuesday but was convinced to leave by his grandson on Wednesday. By then, the Koskis needed help crossing the road.
“The street was like a raging river. I’d never seen anything like it,” Koski said, recalling his fear that the swift-moving current might sweep his wife’s feet out from under her.
Joel Kulaszewicz owns and operates an antique store in a building next door to the Koskis. The floors of his shop were buckled by the flood, and much of his merchandise at floor level was damaged.
“I just lost stuff,” said Kulaszewicz, who said he felt far worse for neighbors who lost their homes and most of their possessions.
Kulaszewicz said returning on Sunday was an unnerving experience.
“I felt nervous. You don’t hardly believe what you’re seeing,” he said.
Koski said his return came with a degree of trepidation.
“One of my neighbors had told me I wouldn’t want to see it,” he said — a warning that failed to prepare him for what he encountered. “I didn’t know it was near this bad.”
Lake described the damage in Thomson as a product of the unpredictable “force of Mother Nature.”
“It’s something we could never have been fully prepared for because it had never happened before,” she said.
Only residents of Thomson and aid workers are being allowed into the community at present. Lake stressed the importance of the public heeding barricades and signs.
“Public safety is our main concern,” she explained.
Lake said engineering staff will need to assess the condition of certain roads before they can be reopened safely. She said the county has had to issue citations to several people who ignored signs and entered areas where they were not allowed.
Lake directed those who wish to help to call a help line at (218) 384-1112. The county is putting together teams of cleanup volunteers. It also is seeking financial contributions and other types of relief.