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Flooding causes major damage at Saxon Harbor; one fatality reported

Flood damage at Saxon Harbor on the shore of Lake Superior north of Hurley. (Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff's Office)1 / 7
Flood damage at Saxon Harbor on the shore of Lake Superior north of Hurley. (Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff's Office)2 / 7
Flood damage at Saxon Harbor on the shore of Lake Superior north of Hurley. (Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff's Office)3 / 7
Flood damage at Saxon Harbor on the shore of Lake Superior north of Hurley. (Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff's Office)4 / 7
Flood damage at Saxon Harbor on the shore of Lake Superior north of Hurley. (Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff's Office)5 / 7
Flood damage at Saxon Harbor on the shore of Lake Superior north of Hurley. (Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff's Office)6 / 7
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter amid flood damage at Saxon Harbor on the shore of Lake Superior north of Hurley. (Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff's Office)7 / 7

Flash flooding in the Saxon Harbor area of Iron County on Monday night caused major damage and left one person dead.

Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk said Mitchell R. Koski, 56, of Montreal was pronounced dead by the county coroner. Furyk attributed the fatality to the storm but offered no further details, saying the incident was under investigation.

Koski had served as mayor of Montreal and, more recently, on the Iron County Board.

“Mitch was a wonderful asset to both the community of Montreal and Iron County,” said Leola Maslanka, a Montreal alderman who had served on the City Board with Koski.

He had left government service recently to spend more time with other things, she said.

Hurley firefighters and others were involved in rescuing people who were stranded in the Saxon Harbor area along the shore of Lake Superior northwest of Hurley, Furyk said in a news release.

Calls about flooding in the northern part of the county started coming in to dispatchers around 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Furyk said. Numerous roads were closed, including a section of U.S. Highway 2.

As of Tuesday afternoon, state Highways 169 and 122 and county Highways B and A still were closed, Furyk said.

Little was left of the Saxon Harbor Marina & Campground.

“Basically, the campground and southern half of the marina is gone, washed away,” said Eric Peterson, administrator of Iron County Forest and Parks Department, which owns the property. “The northern half of the marina, over 50 percent of that is destroyed” and the rest damaged.

He estimated damage would be in the millions if not in the tens of millions.

“We’re going to look to state and federal disaster relief, I’m sure, for something as devastating as this,” Peterson said.

State officials reported a preliminary tally of 85 boats damaged or destroyed at Saxon Harbor. A number of downed trees were floating in the harbor and the adjacent waters of Lake Superior were muddy from flood runoff.

Close to 20 boats washed up along the Lake Superior beach and at least six hadn’t been accounted for, Peterson said. A few boats appeared to be undamaged. At least five camping vehicles were swept into the lake.

The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the area and reported finding debris — trees, docks and a couple dozen small watercraft such as kayaks — about 3 to 6 miles offshore. There were no reports of people missing in the lake, the Coast Guard reported.

From 7 to 10 inches of rain fell in the Saxon area from late Monday into early Tuesday, Peterson said. Hurley, to the east, had less than 4 inches, he said.

The storm damage comes during the middle of the summer tourism season that contributes to Iron County’s economy.

“Our area is extremely devastated — the boats, the buildings, the trailers, the campers, our infrastructure,” Maslanka said. “It’s sad to see. We’re struggling communities financially as it is.”

Peterson credited the campground caretaker hired by the private Saxon Harbor Boating Club for alerting campers to get to higher ground as Oronto Creek, which flows into Lake Superior at Saxon Harbor, turned into a raging torrent.

“There were not a very large number of people there,” Peterson said. “Fortunately, it did not happen on a weekend because typically the campground would be full.”

The marina had 90 boat slips and the campground around 30 sites, Peterson said. Both will be closed at least for the remainder of the year. Iron County’s ATV and UTV trails were closed until trails could be assessed and damage repaired.

Although he was able to get to Saxon Harbor on Tuesday morning with the help of the county Highway Department, roads to the harbor are closed to the public, Peterson said.

“The access is for necessary, essential personnel,” he said. “The roads are not open to the public to get down there to look. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done there.”

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