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Flooded Duluth mall-area businesses reopen; all Miller Hill Mall stores open

Outside Grandma's Miller Hill restaurant, a pile of debris was growing larger on Thursday afternoon as employees clad in white coveralls and masks added armfuls of wood strips to the pile.

Mall-area flooding
Krenzen and Wells Fargo along Haines Road sit in water from the the storm as seen in this aerial photo from Wednesday. An all-night effort to move cars at Krenzen saved many. The Wells Fargo branch suffered water damage, and should reopen in about a week. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

Outside Grandma's Miller Hill restaurant, a pile of debris was growing larger on Thursday afternoon as employees clad in white coveralls and masks added armfuls of wood strips to the pile.

It was the restaurant's floor being dismantled, strip by strip.

The floor and much of the restaurant's interior were ruined by this week's flood that left 3 feet of water inside and outside the restaurant before receding Thursday.

Grandma's was among the businesses in the Miller Hill Mall area hardest hit by this week's flooding. And on Thursday, they were busy cleaning up. Some, like Target, which had a flooded parking lot on Wednesday, reopened Thursday after waters receded. Others, like Savers and most of Miller Hill Mall, won't reopen until today. All stores at the Miller Hill Mall opened this morning, according to mall officials.

Tony Boen, Grandma's restaurant's general manager, described the damage to his business as "extensive," with professional restoration crews being brought in. Because he turned off the electricity and gas as a safety precaution as the building began to flood, all the food was lost. On Thursday, damaged booths were taken out and discarded and the extent of damage to the walls and subfloor was yet to be determined.

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But the restaurant will reopen, Boen promised, probably in 30 days, after the interior is gutted and rebuilt. Work on the exterior, which appeared to have minor damage, will be dealt with later, he said.

"Our concern is to reopen as soon as possible," Boen said, noting that employees will help with the cleanup or temporarily be assigned to one of their other restaurants.

Power lost at Miller Hill Mall kept the most of the mall closed again Thursday. Debris had gotten inside transformers near Miller Creek, which had flooded.

The problem was corrected by Minnesota Power on Thursday morning, with power restored to the mall about 10 a.m. That's when Younkers started calling its staff to come in, after all. Most did, and the store opened at 1 p.m. and remained the only store open as evening neared.

"A lot of us just want to get back to normal," store manager Bryan Brown said after reopening. "It's good to get back in the routine. And paychecks are at stake."

At 4 p.m., the mall's Applebee's reopened. It had kept its food from spoiling by using coolers at the Applebee's in Superior and at nearby Texas Roadhouse, said kitchen manager Randy Seguin. Next door, Old Country Buffet opened at 5 p.m. With the help of refrigerator and freezer trucks bought in by Upper Lakes Food, its food didn't spoil, either, said Scott Limoseth, the restaurant's kitchen manager.

"So we were good," he said.

Savers staff help save store

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Efforts by the staff of Savers stopped the rising waters that had flooded their parking lot to waist-high in places, from flowing into the store.

With 120 sandbags they got at Menards, they barricaded their entrances at 1740 Mall Drive and those of the former Kmart next door. As a backup, they used 5-foot bales of discarded clothes to line the inside of the entrances.

But the sandbags worked.

"No water got in," said store manager Stephanie Opsahl.

On Thursday, they cleaned up the debris the waters left in the parking lot and were getting ready for business today. And the bales of clothes that will still be shipped to developing countries overseas never got wet.

Over at Krenzen Auto at 2500 Mall Drive, tow trucks carried off 13 cars from its lower-level parking lot on Thursday afternoon. All had been submerged in floodwater, damaged beyond repair.

But for Krenzen Auto, it could have been much worse.

Thanks to a midnight call Tuesday from the dealership's cleaning company -- Starz Building Maintenance -- alerting them that rising water had reached the bumpers of some cars, they had sprung into action early.

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Co-owner Howie Krenzen and a few staffers braved the torrential rain, dark and flooding roads to get there quickly. In those hectic hours that followed, they grabbed keys kept inside. And whatever car responded to the clicker, they moved. Working through the rest of the night and through the morning, they moved 150 cars inside their showrooms or to higher ground. And then they moved many again to even higher ground as the water continued to rise.

"The only cars we couldn't get to were half-submerged in water," said Buckley Simmons, the sales manager.

While the rising water stopped short of the dealership's door, the Wells Fargo branch across flooded Mall Drive wasn't so lucky.

Water flooded both the parking lot and the building, filling it with 6 to 8 inches of water before receding and leaving extensive damage behind.

On Thursday, Stephanie Cummings, the bank's district manager, said carpets were soaked and anything on the floor was damaged as well as many computers. Though their computer data was secure, staff members were going through documents to make sure anything that needed to be destroyed would be.

"We're drying things out, working to get everything cleaned," she said. "We're assessing the damage and determining what needs to come out of the building and needs to be replaced."

Cummings said the branch could reopen in about a week, but that depends on whether carpeting needs to be replaced.

"In the meantime, we have two locations within a couple of miles of that branch that customers can use," she said.

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