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Car caught in floodwaters at First Street and Seventh Avenue East in Duluth early Wednesday, June 20, 2012. (Andrew Krueger / akrueger@duluthnews.com)

Duluth mayor declares state of emergency due to flooding

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Mayor Don Ness has declared a state of emergency in the city of Duluth, citing "significant damage, debris and popped manholes."

If you live in a low area near the river, he said on his Facebook page, seek higher ground. He noted that crews are out in force and will be aided by people staying off the roads.

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"We have a coordinated response with city, county, State Patrol, Coast Guard, Red Cross, and the feds ready to help," Ness wrote. "I've been very impressed with the coordinated effort to this point. Thank you to the leaders from across the state offering their help and support. There is another band of rain on our way, so it is likely to get worse before it gets better."

Evacuations are under way in the Fond du Lac neighborhood of Duluth and Thomson Township in Carlton County, and officials at the Lake Superior Zoo are assessing damage and counting their losses after animals drowned and some escaped in the flooding. Duluth fire and police crews helped zoo staff track down animals.

All animals are now accounted for.

At one point, the zoo's polar bear, Berlin, was able to exit its exhibit. The female bear was darted by the zoo's veterinarian and is safe in quarantine, said zoo spokeswoman Keely Johnson. None of the zoo's dangerous animals got outside the perimeter fence, she said.

The Polar Shores exhibit, which housed the seals and Berlin, has been completely flooded out, according to zoo spokeswoman Keely Johnson. At one point the seal swam out of its exhibit and was found on Grand Avenue.

Johnson said many of the zoo's animals have drowned, including all but one of the zoo's barnyard animals. She said the zoo's donkey, goats and sheep have died. She said it's possible others have drowned, as flooding on the grounds have consumed some of the exhibits, such as the raven and vulture cages.

"Obviously, our entire staff is devastated," said Peter Pruett, the zoo's director of animal management.

Johnson said a culvert for Kingsbury Creek was backed up and caused the flooding, but that culvert is now completely washed out.

"The water is starting to recede a little bit," Johnson said.

"It's not going to get any better any time soon," Dean Melde, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said shortly after 10 a.m. "In Duluth, we could easily see another 2 inches, and there's a line of strong to severe storms forming to our west that could bring more."

Melde said the recent downpour resulted from high levels of moisture in the atmosphere combined with strong lift from a low pressure system that has slowed the system to a crawl.

Although moisture levels are typically much drier during the winter, Melde said an inch of rain usually equates to between 10 and 12 inches of snow. So the current system could have dropped 60 and 70 inches of snow on Duluth.

Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood is being evacuated -- though it's not mandatory -- as the St. Louis River rises from above-normal dam discharges upstream. The dams are reported to not be in danger of failure, but Minnesota Power is releasing more water that may flood homes downstream. First United Methodist Church in Duluth -- the "coppertop church" -- is being used as an evacuation center.

The Carlton County Sheriff's Office is recommending no travel in the county except in emergencies because of flooded roadways. The most-affected areas are across northern parts of the county; Highway 210 through Jay Cooke State Park is closed.

The Sheriff's Office is recommending that some residents of Thomson Township evacuate because of high water. Carlton High School has been opened up as an emergency shelter.

Internet and cell-phone service is out in Two Harbors and elsewhere in Lake County. Minnesota Highway 61 north of Duluth is detoured at Homestead Road into Two Harbors. The detour road is deteriorating, however, with continuing rain.

Lake Country Power said 300 of its members are without power, most of those in the Kettle River area.

The National Weather Service in Duluth reported just before 3 a.m. that "the flooding situation in Duluth continues to deteriorate." A flash flood warning remains in effect until 4:30 p.m. today for the Twin Ports up the North Shore

"This appears to be a flood reminiscent of the flood of 1972," which devastated parts of the Duluth Hillside, the Weather Service reported. And with more storms lined up to the west, the situation may get worse yet this morning.

Among key developments:

Interstate 35 is shut down in both directions at 40th Avenue West and in the downtown tunnels in Duluth.

Highway 23 is closed in Fond du Lac.

Highway 61 is closed between Duluth and Two Harbors, at the Silver Creek Tunnel and other points along the North Shore.

Duluth police are reporting are asking residents to stay home, traveling only in case of emergency. Calls to 911 should be for emergency purposes only, police stressed.

Heavy rainfall and flash floods have left some roads under water and have caused flooding, sinkholes, open manholes and mudslides, including along parts of Skyline Parkway. Parts of Interstate 35 in Duluth are closed. Many homes are reporting flooded basements.

There have been reports of homes evacuated because of flooding in other parts of the city of Duluth - including in the Mount Royal area.

The Duluth Police Department, Duluth Fire Department and city of Duluth staff are coordinating with local emergency crews.

The University of Minnesota Duluth and the University of Wisconsin Superior will be closed today because of flooding.

Duluth City Hall is closed today. Nonessential city employees should not report to work today.

The Superior Police Department reports many streets in Superior have water flowing over them or have washed out because of the extreme amount of rain that fell on Tuesday night and continues to fall.

The Blatnik Bridge detour route on Belknap Street, U.S. Highway 2, is affected near Poplar Avenue. Other main arteries, including Tower Ave near 46th Street, 28th Street near Superior High School and Hill Avenue between North 21st Street and Belknap Street are affected by the huge amount of runoff.

The Superior Public Works Department is working to put barricades in place to direct traffic away from or around affected areas.

Serious flooding also was reported up the North Shore, in Two Harbors and north toward Silver Bay.

The Weather Service said the Flood River in Floodwood is over its banks and past flood stage and is starting to flood some homes there.

Keene Creek has overflowed Morris Thomas Road west of Johnson Street in Hermantown.

Woodland Avenue is flooded at St. Marie Street.

Both the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District and city of Duluth have experienced sewage overflows due to the massive amount of rainwater infiltrating the sanitary sewage system. While the systems' new overflow tanks held during heavy rain in April and May, this record rainfall was simply too much, said Karen Anderson, WLSSD spokeswoman.

"We don't even know the extent of it yet because it's too dangerous to be out checking in some spots,'' Anderson said.

An employee of the Miller Hill Mall reported that there is no electricity at the mall.

Morgan Park is blocked off as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Highway 23 is closed in Fond du Lac.

Mission Creek is out of its banks. There are stranded cars where the highway becomes a boulevard in that neighborhood.

Water has covered the road, there are stranded vehicles. The last evacuees were taken about 7:30 a.m. to the Copper Top Church.

Running waters over parts of Grand and Commonwealth avenues, but traffic is moving.

News Tribune investigations editor Brandon Stahl contributed to this report.

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