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Northland picks up the pieces after strong autumn storm

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Pedestrians walk past a section of Duuth’s Lakewalk damaged by Wednesday’s storm. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 6
Flooding impacted four blocks of downtown Grand Marais during Wednesday's storm. Two Grand Marais streets were closed due to flooding and businesses on those streets closed. The strong waves pushed beach debris and rocks into the streets in downtown Grand Marais, which was cleaned up by city crews early Thursday morning. Cook County Emergency Management photo3 / 6
Water flowing over the North Road (Cook County Road 69) in Hovland during Wednesday's storm caused an emergency road closure while Cook County highway crews completed an emergency replacement to reopen the road. Cook County Emergency Management photo 4 / 6
A water pump sits outside a basement window of a Park Point home on Thursday. Wednesday’s storm flooded some basements. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com5 / 6
A sign warns people of contaminated water on Minnesota Avenue on Park Point Thursday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com6 / 6

Residents and tourists slowly made their way around pieces of the Lakewalk strewn around the shoreline Thursday as they gawked at the damage done by Wednesday’s storm.

Two women attempted their run on the Lakewalk, jumping over rocks as they headed toward the lighthouse pier. A group of tourists stopped to read informational signs about Lake Superior as they walked on rocks pushed onto the Lakewalk by the waves. All along the way, people were making comments about how sad it was to see the damage and how powerful the storm had to be to cause it.

Lake Superior’s raw power wasn’t what Twin Cities resident Irene Yaeck expected to see when she planned a trip to Duluth.

“We have a wedding in McGregor and that’s why we decided to come a few days early up here, expecting to see colorful leaves,” Yaeck said.

She walked from her hotel to the Aerial Lift Bridge to get as close as she safely could to watch the storm on Wednesday, she said, explaining, “The winds were incredible.” After seeing the damage in Canal Park on Thursday morning, she was planning to head to Gooseberry Falls, where she heard the waterfalls are rushing after all the recent rain.

Betty Larson and her husband decided to stop in Duluth while driving from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to their home in Fosston, Minn. After seeing the storm taking shape, they switched their hotel accommodations Wednesday to a Canal Park hotel facing the lake to watch the storm thrash the shoreline, providing the grand finale to their fall colors vacation.

“We always talked about wanting to be in Duluth and watch waves, but this was pretty epic,” she said. “Amazing, absolutely amazing. It was Mother Nature at her fury.”

In Canal Park, sections of the Lakewalk’s boards were missing, nowhere to be seen on the ground nearby, and large rocks piled up where the boards once provided a path. Concrete that supported the Lakewalk was crumpled into pieces, the rebar that once held it together twisted and bent. The ground underneath the paved path was hollowed out. Underground wiring running to lamp posts was exposed and the PVC piping that encased the wiring was broken off in places. A sign attached to a lamp post survived Wednesday’s storm, announcing that a restoration project was set to begin this fall to fix the damage caused by a nearly identical storm that blew through Canal Park in October 2017. Two large pine trees laid on top of overturned garbage cans on the ground and Lakewalk boards were half-buried in rock debris at the Hampton Inn. Next to the lighthouse parking lot, a bench had been tossed on the ground and partially buried in rocks, one of its legs completely ripped off.

Snowflakes fell as city crews walked along the Lakewalk to survey the damage Thursday morning. One commented, “That was a bench,” as they walked past a piece of concrete with four pieces of metal still attached where the bench legs had been, but the rest of the bench was nowhere to be seen.

In a statement Thursday night, the City of Duluth said preliminary assessment of the damage was complete, but additional assessments were underway. The City and St. Louis County are expected to make an emergency state aid request

A cost estimate is expected early next week, the City said.

The City said several areas are closed due to damage, including the 12th Street beach access boardwalk on Park Point, access to the Lakewalk from the Lighthouse Parking lot to Leif Erikson Park and the pedestrian trail east of 21st Avenue East, the sidewalk between the DECC and Great Lakes Aquarium, and Brighton Beach due to shoreline and road erosion.

Wind, rain and snow

After battering the North Shore with rain and wind on Wednesday, the storm blew in snow overnight in a weather trifecta.

The strongest wind gusts measured on Wednesday came from freighters anchored on Lake Superior. The Canadian freighter Assiniboine, anchored just off Duluth, reported two minutes of sustained wind at 64 mph at 8:50 a.m. Wednesday and the Canadian freighter Algowood, anchored southeast of Castle Danger on the North Shore, measured a gust at 86 mph at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Other wind gusts measured on Wednesday included 55 mph just east of Duluth at 3:29 a.m., 54 mph at Devil’s Island in the Apostle Islands at 4 a.m., 52 mph at Glensheen Mansion at 5:14 a.m. and 46 mph at the Duluth International Airport at 6:36 a.m., according to the Weather Service.

Rain in Duluth totaled 0.93 inches on Tuesday and 0.99 inches on Wednesday, in addition to an inch of snow. So far in October, Duluth has received 3.51 inches of precipitation — which is 2.43 inches above normal at this point in October, said Steve Gohde, the Weather Service’s observing team leader.

The snow was the “parting shot” on the back end of the storm, Gohde said. As the storm moved to the east, its moisture ran into the cold air that was moving into the Arrowhead from the northwest, which caused the snow, he explained. The colder Canadian air coming from the northwest also caused Thursday’s cooler temperatures. As of 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Cook and Side Lake had received the most snow at 5 inches, according to the Weather Service. The highest snow totals as of midday Thursday also included 3.8 inches just east of Orr, 3.1 inches just south of International Falls and 3 inches north of Nashwauk.

The Twin Ports will likely go into winter with saturated soil after the rain that’s fallen since mid-September and there’s a chance for high water during the spring thaw next year, Gohde said. The precipitation, however, means Duluth has pulled itself out of the drought it was edging into this year after a dry spring and summer and a near-record number of days where the temperature reached at least 80 degrees this summer, he said.

Shipping backlog

The storm on Wednesday also backed up shipping traffic on the lake, as the gale-force winds sent scores of ships ducking into safe harbor, said Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokesperson Adele Yorde.

“They all took shelter somewhere and anchored to wait out the high winds,” she said Thursday morning. “Even now you look at the marine traffic (online) and see nobody coming across the lake; everybody is coming up and around. They’re following the shorelines.”

Between the Twin Ports, Two Harbors and Silver Bay, there were 20 ships scheduled to arrive between Friday and Monday, according to the website Harbor Lookout. Each of the docks has its own loading schedule, so the ships may have to fall in line and wait their turns, Yorde said. The ships were almost exclusively coming for taconite iron ore, with a few needing coal and some carrying in limestone.”

Flooded businesses

Several businesses were forced to close Wednesday as water found its way into Canal Park buildings and basements.

Vikre Distillery in the Paulucci Building closed Wednesday as water from a flooded Lake Avenue made its way through the front door and into the bar area, but the business was set to reopen for normal business hours Thursday.

"We had waves up against the front door and little waves inside the front door," Co-owner Joel Vikre said Thursday.

Nothing was damaged except some cardboard that needed to be recycled, Vikre said.

All of the production and packaging areas, which are higher than the bar, remained dry, Vikre said.

Water in the basement of the Paulucci Building was receding Thursday afternoon, according to Brian Daugherty, president of Grandma's Restaurant Company.

Daughtry, whose office is in the Paulucci Building, estimated water was over 20 inches high yesterday, but none of the building’s mechanical systems were impacted.

Daugherty said he closed Grandma’s Saloon and Grille, Bellisio’s, Sports Garden and Little Angie’s Cantina and Grill Wednesday out of precaution. All were reopened Thursday.

"We closed everything … it was not good for anyone to come down here," Daugherty said.

Although some water made its way into the basement of Grandma’s, it was far less than than the October 2017 storm, which produced similarly strong waves and flooded Canal Park streets and parking lots. Daugherty said that was thanks to eight sump pumps added in the basement and a new line for drainage.

Northern Waters Smokehaus in the Dewitt-Seitz Marketplace reported water in their basement, but remained open Wednesday. Canal Park Brewing Company pushed water out from their dining area Wednesday but also stayed open. Both restaurants reported more customers than expected Wednesday.

Grand Marais flooding

Storm damage was mostly cleaned up in downtown Grand Marais on Thursday morning, except for standing water in the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op parking lot and water drying out in the basement of the Cook County Historical Museum, according to Valerie Marasco, emergency management director for the county.

About four blocks flooded in downtown Grand Marais on Wednesday, closing two streets and the businesses on them due to the gales, high waves and heavy rain, Marasco said. Beach debris and rocks were pushed into the streets in downtown Grand Marais and into the parking lot of Artist Point Park near the U.S. Coast Guard Station. Grand Marais city public-works crews pushed the rocks back onto the beaches and cleared the impacted areas early on Thursday morning, Marasco said.

The Historical Museum’s basement flooded and as many important historical records were brought upstairs as possible, Marasco said. A pumper truck was brought in to pump water out and despite hours of pumping, about 4 inches of water was still standing in the basement at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

An emergency road closure occurred on the North Road (County Road 69) about 1.5 miles north of Minnesota Highway 61 in Hovland when water covered the roadway at about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday. An emergency cross road culvert replacement was completed and the Cook County Highway Department had the road was reopened by 6 p.m. Wednesday, according to Marasco.

Due to a tree on a powerline, Arrowhead Electric Cooperative experienced a power outage affecting the main line between Hovland and Grand Portage on Wednesday afternoon. All power from Horseshoe Bay to the Canadian border had to be shut down shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday to safely remove the tree from the line and repair it. All customers had their power restored about a half hour later, Marasco said.

Superior

Three days of rain and gusty winds took its toll across the City of Superior.

Streets and boulevards citywide were littered with leaves and broken branches. Downed trees, intermittent street flooding, power outages and project delays were some of the impacts of high winds and rain this week.

Linda Cadotte, the city’s director of parks, recreation and forestry, said crews spent the day Wednesday dealing with broken and downed trees in city parks and on street boulevards. She said while it involved some overtime, the crews cut and cleaned up 43 trees Wednesday and were back out Thursday with more reports of trees that were down.

“Central, Gouge and Hammond parks all had at least one tree down,” Cadotte said. “We are hopeful that the tree that fell on the pavilion in Hammond is just resting on it, and it didn’t sustain major damage.”

A couple of trees were down over the road on Wisconsin Point, which still hasn’t been assessed for damage and debris on the beach. The full impact of this week’s 5-plus inches of rain and high winds is still being assessed.

“There have been residents calling regarding water in basements, but we do not have a tally of those numbers or the causes,” Public Works Director Todd Janigo said.

For the most part, the city’s sewer system kept up, with no combined sewer overflows reported, Janigo said. He said there was one sanitary sewer overflow at Lift Station No. 5 near East Second Street on 25th Avenue East, which occurred over a five-hour period.

Cadotte said the city still needs to assess the impact on trails and the effect high water in the bay had on work to restore the Barker’s Island beach.

Northwestern Wisconsin

Wednesday’s waves ripped timbers from Madeline Island Ferry Line’s dock in Bayfield. Although ferry service resumed Friday, vehicles will not be allowed on the ferry until the dock can be reinforced, Captain Kim Mager said.

“The waves were so big yesterday that they were slamming and washing our 150-pound benches away,” Mager said.

Waves also tossed around the docked ferry around.

“It was just snapping lines throughout the day,” Mager said. “I don’t know how many lines we had holding that boat just to keep it at the dock.”

The City of Bayfield and Bayfield County reported no damaged from Wednesday's storm, just debris along the shoreline. Roads in Ashland County were reported to be clear of water as of Thursday evening.

News Tribune reporters Lisa Kaczke, Brady Slater and Jimmy Lovrien and Superior Telegram reporter Shelley Nelson contributed to this report.

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