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Sheriff: Lake County damage worse than 1999 blowdown storm

Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson said "this is worse" Wednesday afternoon. Johnson and his deputies had been comparing storms they'd seen along the North Shore. The devastating results from heavy rain Tuesday and Wednesday left more of a mark th...

Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson said "this is worse" Wednesday afternoon.

Johnson and his deputies had been comparing storms they'd seen along the North Shore. The devastating results from heavy rain Tuesday and Wednesday left more of a mark than the Fourth of July storm in 1999 that has since become known as the "blowdown," Johnson said.

Nearly 24 hours of torrential rain swelled every waterway along the North Shore and left many roads closed due to water running over them or because they had breaches where everything was washed away.

Internet, phone and 911 service was restored by early afternoon in Lake County, and Johnson gave one of the first reports on conditions in the county shortly after. The same fiber line that was severed in early 2010 was damaged again near Knife River, knocking out all communication up the shore for several hours Wednesday.

Scenic Highway 61 was still closed as several areas of roadway remained flooded from Larsmont to Knife River. That was the worst hit area north of Duluth, Johnson said. Five homes were searched and people evacuated, Johnson said, as the river rose to dangerous levels.

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The Highway 61 Expressway was also closed for most of the day Wednesday as inspectors took a look at the bridge at Knife River for damage. Water threatened to top over the expressway there, Johnson said, but has receded. It will be opened once the bridge is deemed safe.

There was a seven-mile detour off the expressway set up on the Homestead Road and Stanley Road but those roads in the highlands were deteriorating quickly as rain continued to fall Wednesday morning. "There are no shoulders left," Johnson said.

Johnson said areas inland from Lake Superior and around Silver Bay fared better. There are roadsides washed away up Highway 61 from Two Harbors and Minnesota Department of Transportation officials were looking at them Wednesday morning. The road was closed Tuesday night near the Silver Cliff tunnel because the Silver Creek was running over the road. The area was open again by the morning.

"Our highway department has a heck of a job ahead of them," Johnson said.

Bays on Lake Superior were hit hard. The temporary landing at Burlington Bay, set up last year during reconstruction of the landing in Agate Bay near downtown Two Harbors, was mostly eroded. Flood Bay up the shore was littered with debris, including whole trees on their way out to sea to meet others bobbing on the horizon.

Johnson said the biggest frustration of the day was the loss of communication. "We wanted to make sure people could get in touch with us," he said.

The county patched service through other counties and used a standing policy of making sure emergency personnel were stationed at fire halls.

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