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Our View...What a difference a year makes

On this week last year, summer was already well under way in Carlton County and the "livin' was good."

The Pine Journal reported on the ground breaking at Sappi's Cloquet mill for an exciting new project to convert the existing kraft pulp mill into a production plant for chemical cellulose - the largest investment Sappi had made in North America in some time.

The I-35 construction project and work on the Highway 210 Bridge at the Thomson Dam had just begun, promising much-needed upgrades to the county's highways and byways.

The Lake Air Flying Club and the Moose Lake Kiwanis Club kicked off the summer season with their annual Fly-In, Drive-In Pancake and Sausage Breakfast at Kovanen Field, south of Moose Lake.

Local law enforcement officials had at long last made an arrest in the Sept. 3, 2000, stabbing death of Trina Langenbrunner - one of the most high-profile cold cases in the county.

Things were on an even keel, and it seemed that the most the county had to worry about were reports of forest tent caterpillars marching across Minnesota's northern counties in greater numbers than normal.

And then, the other shoe dropped....

During the overnight hours leading into June 20, an unprecedented downpour of torrential rain resulted in what was to become a 500-year flood in Carlton County and surrounding areas.

All over Carlton County there was damage from the high waters. Downtown Barnum flooded; the city park and county fairgrounds were submerged under torrents of rising water. The town of Thomson and the east side of the city of Carlton were evacuated. Campgrounds at Jay Cooke, Cloquet's Spafford Park and Moose Lake had to be evacuated as well. And the decking of the beloved swinging bridge in Jay Cooke State Park was obliterated, leaving behind only the concrete and stone support pillars.

Many roads west of Cloquet on the Fond du Lac Reservation were rendered impassible, some left with gaping chasms as deep as a house.

The sheriff's office advised no travel on roads in the area due to many road closures or high water levels over roadways, and after the Red Cross initially set up a shelter at Carlton High School, it was forced to move operations to the relative safety of the Scanlon Community Center in order to provide shelter for residents who had been evacuated from their homes.

The disaster was unlike any that residents of the county had ever witnessed, except for the very few who are still alive to tell about the Great Fire of 1918.

Next Thursday, June 20, marks the one-year anniversary of the flood, and it should be a moment to pause and reflect on how far we've come from then until now - and how far we have yet to go. The 2012 flood was far more than a news story. It impacted countless people's lives, homes and livelihoods, and even those who were not directly impacted by it have experienced the ripple effect in many different ways. Our cities and the counties will be paying the price for the disaster for a long time to come, and the complexion of the county itself will never be quite the same.

Such an anniversary is surely not cause for celebration - though we were fortunate that no lives were lost. Instead it should be a solemn time of taking stock, of reaching out, of understanding that the financial, emotional and psychological effects of an event such as this life-changing natural disaster will not go away in a year, or even a decade, and may linger on far longer.

If life is going on as normal for you - count your blessings. If life as you know it has changed, however, take comfort in knowing that all of us are behind you, and you will not be left to go it alone.

Wendy Johnson

(Editor's note: There will be a public open house to acknowledge the anniversary of the flood on Wednesday, June 19, from 4-7 p.m. at the Carlton County Transportation Building on Old Highway 61 in Carlton. The public is invited to attend for an overview of the long-term recovery effort and information on preparedness for future disasters.