Northland begins to clean up flood damage

Karie Simpson and a mix of friends and strangers spent Friday afternoon filling a red construction-site-sized metal trash bin with unsalvageable possessions.

Clean up
Dan Nichols hauls wood from his basement on East Seventh Street in Superior as his girlfriend, Carolyn Hanson, watches on Thursday morning. The couple had more than 4 feet of water in their basement. (Jed Carlson /

Karie Simpson and a mix of friends and strangers spent Friday afternoon filling a red construction-site-sized metal trash bin with unsalvageable possessions.

She expected to be done with cleanup later in the afternoon after the basement of her home, on East 13th Street down from Skyline Parkway, filled with 37 inches of water and sewer backup on Wednesday.

"Now that I've lived through it, I'll never think the same way of people going through crisis," she said.

While the Minnesota Department of Public Safety can't pinpoint the number of people affected by Wednesday's storm, local cleaning and restoration services have fielded hundreds of calls from residents around the region with flooding issues ranging from a few feet to 7 feet of water in a basement.

"I lost track at over 200 (calls)," said Randy Berglund, who owns Service Master of the North, part of a franchise that has sent 20 additional teams to the region for support.


Simpson took a DIY approach to cleanup, renting the dumpster and pulling on a pair of hip waders, a respirator and gloves to clean out the basement. Friends called and stopped by as she worked. Some had done laundry, some brought meals and some brought muscle. Even strangers passing by offered assistance, jumping in to help load the dumpster.

Simpson's 13-year-old daughter, Courtney Simpson, whose bedroom was in the basement, noticed the water just before midnight on Tuesday. Sewage was coming out of the toilet. They worked quickly to grab as much as they could save. By morning they had 37 inches of backflow sewage and water, and gravel and debris from a nearby sinkhole that flowed into the house.

The family was in the final stages of a long-term renovation process and lost items ranging from major appliances to Courtney's possessions: her bed, dresser, books, iPod, report cards, school projects and photo albums. They lost a retaining wall in the backyard and the support beams on the deck.

Simpson was cheered by the number of strangers who pitched in to help build a barricade during the flood or who stopped by when they saw them filling the trash bin.

"It's been a fabulous event," Simpson said. She said she had no choice but to keep a positive attitude.

"You have to go with the flow," she said.

There was one breakdown while the flooding was occurring.

"I stood on the front deck and was emotionally overwrought," she said. "It's such a helpless feeling."


Artist Ann Gumpper and her husband, Mark Harvey, had never had any flooding at their 100-plus-year-old farmhouse-style home next to Tischer Creek. This week, the creek forged a new route and left 20 inches of water in the basement and 3 feet in the garage. They weren't the worst case in the neighborhood, Gumpper said.

They lost a nephew's car, years of artwork, paint, set designs and about 100 samples used to show her work to potential clients.

"It's sad, in a way," Gumpper said. "As Mark said, 'What's going to happen to it, anyway? Our kids probably aren't going to want it.' The creek was more ruthless in its purging."

Joanne Loyear of Loyear Restoration said the company is currently working on 90 projects -- more than three times as many as they typically field after a storm.

"It's unlike anything I've seen before, and I was around in 1972," she said, referring to the last major flooding in the region. "This is much worse. We've had people call that had 7 feet of water, 4 feet of water; another lady said, 'I can just see the arm of my couch.' "

For those cases, Loyear Restoration hasn't been able to provide immediate help, but they've passed out advice:

  • Toss out anything porous that has touched sewage.
  • Sewage has to be sanitized properly before fans are used to dry it so bacteria doesn't spread.
  • Wear proper eye protection, gloves and boots.
  • Keep track of what is thrown out, because even people without homeowner's insurance might have access to money from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Department of Public Safety spokesman Doug Neville said his agency will have a better idea of how many people were affected when they are able to access all of the flooded areas.

  • Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
    What To Read Next
    Bankruptcy information gathered from cases filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Duluth.
    Recently sold properties from St. Louis County.
    While traffic has roughly doubled since 2020 — the heart of the pandemic, when there were 14.9 million passengers — it’s still not at pre-pandemic levels: In 2019, there were 39.6 million passengers.
    The addition of 72 Poplar River Condos units nearly doubles the vacation rental company's North Shore portfolio.