Epic flooding sweeps through Carlton CountyAll over Carlton County there was damage from the high waters. Downtown Barnum flooded; the city park and county fairgrounds were submerged with the high waters. Campgrounds at Jay Cooke, Cloquet’s Spafford Park and Moose Lake had to be evacuated. And the beloved swinging bridge is severely damaged.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Mick and Carole Balow, 75, were jolted awake at 4 a.m. Wednesday by loud knocking on the door of their home in Thomson, reinforced by the flashing lights of a police car.
Carole said her thoughts immediately flew to their four children, but Mick had it figured out before he opened the door.
The flood waters were coming.
“They went from door to door, telling us to evacuate,” Carole said. “They said there might be a problem with the [Thomson] dam.”
Carole left for temporary shelter at Carlton High School at 5:30 a.m., driving down the Munger bike trail because Dallas Avenue was flooded and the Highway 210 bridge by the dam was closed for repairs. Although she had failed to persuade Mick to go with her then, he followed her later in the morning.
“I wasn’t that worried,” Mick said. “We’d never even had water in our yard before. But I didn’t realize then that they didn’t have all the gates [on the dam] open. They didn’t do that until about 8:30 this morning.”
He described how the water was pouring over the wall next to the dam.
“It got underneath the road, Vermillion Street North, and lifted it up two or three feet. It’s gone down now, but the blacktop …,” he makes a wave motion with his hand.
Blacktop was washing away in spots all over Carlton County: County Road 4 west of Highway 61 in Mahtowa, next to the Highway 210 bridge near the Thomsen dam, University Road on the Fond du Lac Reservation and more.
Sue and Adrian Watt of Murto Road in Esko decided to take a walk around 4 p.m. Wednesday to assess the storm damage. When they walked across Hwy. 210 and down near the headquarters of Jay Cooke Park, they couldn’t believe their eyes.
“The swinging bridge was gone,” said Sue. “It was gone.”
She said one of the first two stone pillars that supported the iconic bridge was completely washed away, as well as half of another one. Though several more were still standing, she said the decking was twisted and mangled.
“You just would believe the power and level of the water,” said Sue, saying the surface of the St. Louis River was above the level of the bridge.
She said they walked up the bike trail for a distance before authorities in the area told them they needed to get out. She said she couldn’t even describe the condition of the roads in the area and the washaways that had already taken place.
“It makes you realize that the park, as we know it, could change forever,” she sighed.
All over Carlton County there was damage from the high waters. Downtown Barnum flooded; the city park and county fairgrounds were submerged with the high waters. Campgrounds at Jay Cooke, Cloquet’s Spafford Park and Moose Lake had to be evacuated. In Moose Lake, those who were present moved their campers and motor homes to higher ground, but any who weren’t there to move their campsites will find them submerged in the waters of the Moosehead Lake.
Scanlon’s River Inn lived up to its name, as the rapidly rising St. Louis River made its way through the doors of the bar and grill by roughly 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, according to owner Randy Stolan.
“It’s four inches deep already,” he said at 10 a.m., standing in the road across from the restaurant, the river filling up the parking lot between him and his property. “It just gushes in when you go in.”
Stolan was joined in his vigil by numerous patrons, friends and many others who came simply to gawk as the river kept rising. Looking at his cell phone, Stolan said his Weather Bug application put the river level at 13.78 feet at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday with predictions that it would rise to 15.5 feet by evening before receding. The record – set in 1950 – was 15.8 inches.
“It [the restaurant] might just wash down the river,” he said with a dry chuckle.
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Duluth put the 24-hour rainfall totals at 7.7 inches in the Scanlon/Cloquet area, 6.1 inches in Wright, 7.8 inches in Wrenshall and 8.3 inches in Proctor.
Law enforcement officials and firefighters were out in force all day Wednesday, and played a starring role in the evacuations and an even more challenging scenario, keeping people from making unwise choices in their rush to assess the damage.
“We’re just trying to make sure people are safe,” said Tom Fread, of Carlton ambulance and the Wrenshall volunteer fire department.
Carlton County ran out of cones and “road closed” signs used to block off closed or damaged roadways before noon, although another 90 cones arrived from the Twin Cities later in the afternoon.
And the list of evacuated streets kept rising.
Red Cross volunteer Kelvin McCuskey said he got a call from the Duluth Red Cross office to head to Carlton High School at 3:30 a.m. By noon, they had brought more than 60 people through the temporary shelter.
“We had 23 or 24 people from Thomson here initially, most of them got information and left to stay with friends or family,” he said. “Then we had an additional 40 people who were evacuated from the campground at Jay Cooke.”
Then the evacuation center had to be moved from Carlton High School to the Scanlon Community Center because Otter Creek was flooding and more roads were closing so officials wanted to move the remaining evacuees before any more roads were flooded.
Despite the property damage, risk and inconvenience, folks throughout Carlton County seemed to greet the floodwaters with a mixture of realism and humor. Across from the River Inn, the atmosphere was almost festive. At Carlton High School, where the Red Cross had set up a temporary shelter in the library for people who were evacuated, people were more subdued but, still, a tone of adventure prevailed.
Wrenshall’s Shirley Moretto braved flooded roads to get to the high school on a hunch that she would find her dear friend, Carole Balow, among the evacuated.
When she found Carole and Mick, she was delighted.
“You must come to my house,” she told them. “We have a generator so we can watch some movies. We can have drinks, play games, it’ll be fun.”
Of course, there was a chance they would get flooded out of Moretto’s home, situated near a creek, the Wrenshall woman said as they gathered their things and headed out of the school library.
If that happened, Carole was dressed for it. She had a raincoat and the perfect sweatshirt: appliqued with Noah’s Ark.
Wendy Johnson contributed to this story.