Pine County was dreading fire, but flash flood struck insteadFor months, Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole expected Mother Nature’s worst.
By: Richard Meryhew, Minneapolis Star Tribune
For months, Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole expected Mother Nature’s worst.
Ever since 100 mph winds roared across the county last summer, destroying thousands of trees and a good chunk of St. Croix State Park, county officials braced for a fire of “biblical proportions,” Cole said.
But they never figured on a flood.
“Flash flooding is not something we have here,” Cole said on Tuesday about the historic June rainfall that washed out roads and flooded homes and businesses throughout Northeastern Minnesota.
“We have our seasonal overland flooding that comes and goes here every year,” he said. “But a flash flood — people were just out-and-out unprepared for it. “The saving grace is no one got killed. Stuff can be fixed. Stuff can be replaced.”
FEMA officials arrived in the region Wednesday to assess damage to homes and businesses caused by the unrelenting rain that battered the area on June 19-20.
In Duluth, 10 inches of rain created the worst flash flooding in more than a century and hundreds of people were forced from homes by rising water. In nearby Carlton County, which sustained more than $100 million in damage to roads, bridges, sewers and private property, 64 homes were destroyed and more than 800 damaged.
By comparison, in largely rural Pine County, the floods caused nearly $7 million in damage to roads, bridges and sewers, as well as 130 houses and several businesses. But Cole said the timing couldn’t have been worse.
Straight-line winds that topped 100 mph pummeled St. Croix State Park the night of July 1, 2011, dropping towering pines and hardwood trees and leaving campgrounds, roads and hiking trails a tangled mess. Cole said much of the park was closed still this spring. “We’re still cleaning that up,” he said.
With so many trees decaying on the forest floor, county officials prepared for the possibility of a major fire this summer. “We were talking about it every day, at least 10 times a day,” said Denise Baran, of the Pine County Emergency Management team.
When the heavy rains came, Cole said, few were prepared. He said only a few in the community had flood insurance.
“We’re at the point literally of ‘What’s next?’ ” Cole said. “We are tapped out of people and resources. We’ve had two disasters in one year. This is an incredible strain on everyone.”