Heavy rains lead to flash flooding in Barnum, Moose Lake … again
While Carlton County spent much of Monday under storm clouds and rain that ranged from a deluge to a steady downpour punctuated by frequent lightning flashes, skies on Tuesday dawned blue and sunny. Despite the sunshine, however, the water levels kept climbing in southern Carlton County Tuesday, just like they did after the massive rains in 2012 that led to flood levels experts say usually come only once every 500 years.
Jack Jacobson, Carlton County bridge supervisor, stopped to measure the water levels in the Barnum City Park around 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, where the Moose Horn River had overflown its banks and turned the park into a small lake with a strong current.
“It’s come up 12 inches since I made those black marks below at 9 a.m.,” Jacobson said, pointing to a place on the flat wooden stick far below the surface. “It’s not quite as bad as 2012, but it’s still bad.”
Jacobson was standing on the edge of the park, next to the entrance road and a cheerful “Welcome to Barnum City Park” sign. Inside the park, the playground equipment, picnic pavilion and volleyball court were submerged, as picnic tables floated in the water and a blue porta-potty lay sideways, caught on one of the slides.
“If you wanted to launch a boat, you could back up and do it right here,” cracked Josh Cosgrove, who was watching the rising waters from his ATV Tuesday.
“It’s not quite as bad as 2012, but it’s rising,” Cosgrove said, noting that he’d been driving around surveying the water damage. “It’s still coming.”
No matter where a person went in southern Carlton County Tuesday, people were comparing conditions to the flooding in 2012. In some ways, that’s a good thing, said Carlton County Emergency Management Director Brian Belich. It means residents are more prepared now, as are local cities, the county and the various emergency services.
“A lot of people are doing things differently this time.” Belich said. “They’re a little more cautious.”
And public officials definitely know the routine this time.
Carlton County Chief Deputy Assessor Kyle Holmes started his workday Tuesday at 6 a.m. when he arrived in Moose Lake to survey the damage there, before heading to Kettle River, then trying two different routes — both submerged — to get to Barnum before driving back to Moose Lake and up Interstate 35.
Belich started his day the same way, touring the southern half of the county before heading to the Carlton County Board meeting to report on the flooding.
Some roads that were closed Monday night — Highway 73, for example, and a number of streets in Moose Lake — were open again by Tuesday morning, but other roads were closed, Holmes said. County Road 6 between Kettle River and Barnum looked like a lake, he noted, with water running across about a quarter mile stretch of the road, more than a foot deep in places. A large portion of the bike trail was washed out between Moose Lake and Barnum, and culverts and roadways were flooded in numerous locations around the county.
Belich said two residences were stranded between flooded roads in Kettle River Tuesday morning, and added the Red Cross had been getting calls from residents with damage to their homes or who were unable to get out because of flooding or washouts.
On Tuesday, the emergency management director said the biggest concern was the still rising water in the southern part of the county. He explained that most of the watershed feeds into the Moose Horn River in Barnum and then all that water just keeps moving toward Moose Lake, where the Moose Horn, Mud Creek and another creek all empty into Moosehead Lake, with only the river exiting on the other side, forming yet another bottleneck.
“It takes a day or two to flush out,” Belich said Tuesday. “So the issue will be later today and tomorrow with the watershed.”
Officials were very prepared in Moose Lake, said City Administrator Tim Peterson, who started his job six days ago.
“I can’t stress enough, from the moment it even looked like it might flood through this morning, we’ve had incredible attention to detail from police, fire, utilities and more,” he said Wednesday morning, after water levels had risen another 2.5 inches overnight. “This city is extremely prepared and has worked tirelessly since it started raining two days ago.”
That meant all the lift stations (except at the campground) were still functioning and the city’s drinking water remained clean. The campground was under water, as was the nearby Little League baseball field. The high school baseball field was still dry Wednesday morning.
Parts of Lakeshore Drive — hit hard in the 2012 flood — were submerged and closed to through traffic, but the water hadn’t crossed the road to the homes on the other side yet.
City officials had closed the campground, city park and public boat landing by 11 a.m. Tuesday and prohibited all swimming and boating.
The campground in Moose Lake is like a canary in the coal mine, one of the first indicators that serious flooding is imminent.
Camper Mike Felgen said when he left Moose Lake City Campground Monday afternoon, he could see all three docks out in front of the campers. When he returned a few hours later, he couldn’t see the docks anymore. He kept watching the water creep toward his camper and decided to pull out of the park between 8 and 9 p.m.
City workers cut the power to the campground at roughly midnight, and at least one member of the police department came down Tuesday morning and started pulling out any remaining campers with his truck, even if their seasonal owners hadn’t arrived to rescue them.
By afternoon Tuesday, that same truck was pulling a trailer loaded with picnic tables out of the campground, along with Shanta Balut and Kent Johnson of Moose Lake Ambulance and Tyler Hoffman from the fire department, as they made trip after trip to pick up more tables and other items likely to float away in higher waters. In 2012, Balut spent a week on the lakeside from the prep work to pumping basements.
There were lessons learned in 2012, she said.
“Move quickly and don’t wait until it’s already flooding,” Balut said.
Josh Craig said his mother- and father-in-law had recently returned to their Woodbury home after spending two weeks at their seasonal camper in Moose Lake, and being evacuated from the campground during a storm a couple weeks before.
Craig said their camper was the last to be pulled out of the park, at approximately 2 p.m. Tuesday. He was still working to help rescue the table and chairs and other outside items from the encroaching water a couple hours later, sometimes wading through the water.
“One of the other campers said a paramedic swam out and unhooked their pontoon boat from a dock so they could get it out,” he added.
Campground supervisor Joe Filipiak said the response from the campers, the city and volunteers was remarkable.
“I didn’t have to call anyone,” he said. “They just showed up. Rescue, EMTs, fire … everyone just came. People have been helping all day.
“The city had everything planned — they knew it was coming,” he added. “We got everybody out. I think in 2012, a dozen campers were destroyed.”
By Wednesday morning, floodwaters from the Moosehorn River on the southwest side of the lake had reached the pavilion and were creeping toward the city’s indoor hockey rink. More than a dozen people had piled sandbags around the lake side of Moose Lake Brewing Company across the street, as the lake water rose even higher.
On Tuesday, City Electrical Plant Superintendent Harlan Schmeling said city workers had the main sewer plant “dyked up” and so far everything was fine.
Peterson said things were still looking good Wednesday morning, but stressed that city officials and residents were taking nothing for granted.
He said clients from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) had filled sandbags all day Tuesday, and the state’s Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) in Willow River/Moose Lake had both filled sandbags at the Depot and also stacked them around the main lift station.
“Without their help, we would not be where we are today,” Peterson said, adding that volunteers and city workers were still sandbagging Wednesday as the waters continued to rise, albeit more slowly.
“We want to make sure we don’t sit and wait,” he said. “We will prepare for the worst. If anyone needs sandbags, they’re more than welcome.”
For his part, Barnum’s Dennis Westerberg wasn’t worried, even though the basement of his downtown Barnum home flooded to within a few inches of the first floor in 2012. He was looking over the Barnum City Park as his Pomeranian dog, Bear, wandered down the grassy slope and took a swim in the flooded park on Tuesday afternoon.
“I don’t think it will be as bad as last time. We didn’t get the rain up north like last time,” Westerberg \said, adding that he heard the Duluth airport got less than two inches the day before. “If that number was 6 to 8 inches, we’d be in trouble again.”
It seemed he was right, as Belich told a group of Parkside Apartment residents in Barnum around 4 p.m. Tuesday that the river was supposed to crest in Barnum by 8:30 p.m. after rising four more inches. (It actually crested closer to 6 p.m. Tuesday.)
“So you can rest easy,” he told the group.
That was welcome news to the residents, at least two of whom lived there long enough to remember being evacuated from the building in 2012 in a front end loader. They said firefighters had gone door to door Monday night to tell them to be prepared to evacuate, and assure them they would be informed if things got worse.
Unfortunately, the news wasn’t as good for Moose Lake, which was expecting water levels to continue to rise until Wednesday evening.
“Hopefully this warm weather will help dry it up,” Westerberg said, referring to Tuesday’s bright and sunny weather. “I hear we’re supposed to get more rain. I hope we don’t get too much because there’s nowhere for it to go but up!”
Carlton County residents who suffered water damage to any primary or secondary structures (homes, garages, etc.) as a result of the recent heavy rains and flooding are asked to visit the Carlton County websiteat www.co.carlton.mn.us to complete an online damage assessment form or call 218-384-9145 and leave your name, phone number and address, with a brief description of the damage incurred. A county appraiser will contact you within five to 10 days, if not sooner, to come and inspect the damage sustained. This is particularly important for commercial business owners who sustained damage. If any benefits or aid becomes available this will be of the utmost importance to have the damage documented.
As well, State Sen. Tony Lourey urged residents affected by the storm to contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Consumer Services Center (CSC) by phone at 651-539-1600 or 800-657-3602 (Greater Minnesota) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The CSC is available to help consumers with questions, concerns, or complaints following a damaging storm, flood, or tornado. The CSC helps consumers understand their rights, work with their insurer to settle a claim, and help Minnesotans make informed insurance decisions after a flood or storm damages their home, auto, or property, Lourey noted in a press release Tuesday.