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Duluth mayor asks flood volunteers to prepare for long haul

Duluth Mayor Don Ness has a message for potential volunteers in the flood cleanup effort: Be prepared for the long haul. "The response has been almost overwhelming," Ness said at a Monday news conference. "It's wonderful to see people coming out ...

Gov. Mark Dayton
Duluth Mayor Don Ness (right) shows storm damage to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (left) on Thursday, June 21, 2012, in Duluth. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

Duluth Mayor Don Ness has a message for potential volunteers in the flood cleanup effort: Be prepared for the long haul.

"The response has been almost overwhelming," Ness said at a Monday news conference. "It's wonderful to see people coming out at the zoo, at Hartley (Park) and at Chester Bowl. We want those hands."

But, though initial volunteer support for flood recovery efforts has been impressive, Ness encouraged people to stay involved long-term.

"This work will need to continue for many days and months," Ness said.

David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer, said the city wants to make sure it makes the most of volunteers.

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"One of the big issues is coordinating volunteers, so they're not just in the way but are instead being incredibly useful," he said. "We hope to come up with the right coordination to start channeling these volunteers where they will be most helpful and where we need boots on the ground."

Advice from other cities that have dealt with floods has led Duluth to take it slow and thoughtfully as it prepares to make use of volunteers.

"When dealing with a disaster, volunteers are a key component of the recovery effort for any community," said Amy Norris, public information coordinator for the city. "In order to provide the highest level of effectiveness, we need to make sure there's a system that incorporates getting the volunteer to the work site and making sure the residents of our community are getting the appropriate help."

Cities such as Rochester and Grand Forks, N.D., which also have suffered flooding, have reached out and offered their expertise to Duluth, Norris said.

"We're trying not to reinvent the wheel," she said. "We're getting excellent advice from (Rochester and Grand Forks) and also advice on a national level from the Red Cross and others."

The city of Duluth, with the United Way of Greater Duluth, the Red Cross and others, are working to set up a system to coordinate flood-relief volunteers, Norris said. That system could be in place as early as this afternoon.

"The immediate need for the next three to four weeks will be very high," Norris said, "and then we'll go into a different phase, where we concentrate more on the severely damaged areas such as our trails and things like that. But the immediate need will be intense for at least 30 days."

For now, volunteers are asked to go to the United Way website to sign up .

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People in Duluth who need help or who are willing to volunteer their services locally should contact the United Way online or at (218) 726-4777.

Ness said volunteers are needed not only in parks but to help individuals, including elderly residents who are struggling to remove flood-damaged items and materials from their homes.

"It's important that we rally around our neighbors and lend a helping hand," he said, noting that there are pockets of considerable damage throughout Duluth.

Ness pointed to the 2600 block of West Second Street as one of these areas hit hard by the flood. He said that neighborhood "filled up like a bowl" during recent rains.

In addition, he said: "Our hearts are with people in Fond du Lac, the neighborhood that was hit hardest."

More than 80 volunteers showed up at Duluth's Hartley Park on Sunday afternoon to move a wooden foot bridge back into place over Tischer Creek, said Tom O'Rourke, executive director of Hartley Nature Center. The bridge, more than 100 feet long including boardwalk approaches, had washed about 20 yards downstream during last week's flood.

"The bridge is back," O'Rourke said. "The side rails aren't back up on it. It's not quite open yet."

Several other heavy sections of boardwalk on a trail to Hartley Pond also had floated away in the big rains. Those, too, are back in place, O'Rourke said.

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"It was just a total moving crew," he said. "There were people from Turtle Lake and Forest Lake who had heard about the flooding, and a couple of people who had never been to Hartley. There were 70-year-old ladies hauling wheelbarrows of gravel and tamping gravel down."

Amid the project, freshly laid turtle eggs were found in a pile of gravel, O'Rourke said.

"They were carefully moved to another area," he said. "It was this nature moment interspersed with all the trail work."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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