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Nearly 300 people flee high water in Duluth and along St. Louis River

By airboat, trucks and city bus, residents evacuated the Fond du Lac neighborhood on Wednesday as flooding from the region's torrential downpour turned their homes into islands.

Evacuees on bus
Residents of Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood and motorists who were stranded there wait on a Duluth Transit Authority bus on Highway 23 before being evacuated to First United Methodist Church during Wednesday's storm. At right, Marie Lamb (from left) of Tennessee along with her sister, Marsha Turner, and Turner's daughter, McKayla, 9, make the best of the wait. The three got stuck in the water in their car. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

By airboat, trucks and city bus, residents evacuated the Fond du Lac neighborhood on Wednesday as flooding from the region's torrential downpour turned their homes into islands.

After trying to get through high water earlier in the morning, Tina Morris was ready when rescuers came to her home on Third Street about 11:30 a.m. "I said, 'This is my chance. I'm going to get out'," Morris recounted later at First United Methodist Church (the "copper-top church"), which housed evacuees overnight.

The state Emergency Operations Center said 250 residents were evacuated from 80 homes in the Fond du Lac neighborhood, and two campgrounds also were evacuated. Another 40 people were evacuated from the town of Thomson, along with the campground at Jay Cooke State Park.

Along with the copper-top church, the Scanlon Community Center was set up as an evacuation site, said Judy Hanne

Gonzalez, executive director of the Northland Red Cross. Authorities first set up an evacuation center at Carlton High School but had to abandon it after it sustained flood damage of its own, she said.

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Red Cross volunteer Verne Wagner, who set up the copper-top church site around 3 a.m. Tuesday with fellow volunteer Kirk Douglas and the Rev. David Bard, the church's pastor, said as many as 50 evacuees came in the early hours of the day.

The Red Cross was prepared for as many as 50 people Wednesday night at the church and as many as 100 in Scanlon, although the actual numbers were likely to be considerably smaller, Hanne Gonzalez said.

The Red Cross also is supporting a shelter on the Fond du Lac Reservation that was prepared for as many as 100 people, she said.

Evacuees came from several neighborhoods, Wagner said, including West Duluth, Lincoln Park and the Central Hillside.

James McGee Jr., 33, who lives in an East Hillside apartment, said he had to evacuate when a gas line broke in his building. After first stopping at the CHUM drop-in center, McGee called friends in St. Paul who told them they had heard on the news that he could go to the copper-top church.

Mike Marchand, 60, had to evacuate his West Duluth apartment building about 7 a.m. Tuesday, and at first couldn't find anywhere to go. After a couple of calls, he was brought to the church in style by a Duluth firetruck.

Morris said city firefighters, St. Louis County sheriff's deputies and city of Duluth personnel knocked on doors and helped people evacuate. She and others were ferried out on a Sheriff's Department airboat, Morris said. A city bus took them to the church.

Brad Nelson, Susan Stone and their daughter Iris, 19 months, live on a bluff in Fond du Lac and were among the last to be evacuated, around 4 p.m. A Comfort Systems truck brought them out along with their dogs Ozzie and Bella and a few possessions they shoved into backpacks. They were waiting outside the church about 6:30 p.m. for friends who had offered them a place to stay, Nelson said.

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"We feel like refugees," Nelson said. "We were just walking out of our houses with the things we could carry. It's the kind of thing you see on TV but you just don't -- when it happens to you, it's just surreal."

The unresolved question in nearly everyone's mind is when they'd be able to return, and what they would return to. Nelson said rescuers warned them the initial flooding from Mission Creek would be replaced by St. Louis River flooding. "It's going to take a while, I think, for the river to go down," he said.

Morris said she was glad her five children had been staying with their grandparents. She left with only some medicines and doesn't have the work shirt she needs for her housekeeping job at the Spirit Mountain Inn.

Hanne Gonzalez said shelters could be needed for a few more days. The Duluth site will switch at noon today from the copper-top church to Laura MacArthur School in West Duluth.

Related Topics: CARLTONWEATHER
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