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13-household area stranded by washed-out road

Jacob Stover, from front to back, Donny Northcutt and Connor Stover hike Friday along one of the large crevasses in what used to be a section of West Skyline Parkway near Spirit Mountain in Duluth. Bob King /Forum Communications Co.

DULUTH -- Residents along a quarter-mile stretch of West Skyline Parkway trapped by gaping sections of washed-out road have put their ingenuity to good use.

The Stover boys and their mom, Alice, stacked stones to cross the water flowing through the newly created crevasse. They installed ropes to make traveling up and down the ravine with grocery bags more manageable, and they've helped their postal carrier deliver the mail.

"It's kind of an inconvenience, but we're not going to complain; we've seen the pictures," Alice Stover said. "It could be worse."

The flooding that began Tuesday night resulted in one 15-foot wide section of West Skyline Parkway looking as if it was hacked apart by a giant meat cleaver. Wide, deep swaths were cut into a gravel section farther down the road, an area that includes Stewart Creek Bridge.

The city's top two priorities are the 13-household area on West Skyline and the flooded Fond du Lac neighborhood, officials said.

Plans are set for emergency services through the U.S. Coast Guard and could include the use of their helicopter to reach the now-isolated neighborhood, said Jim Hansen, public information officer for Duluth police. Police were checking out the condition of trails Friday to see if four-wheelers could access the area.

"Everyone's been talked to, accounted for and OK," Hansen said, and some residents have been designated to help with emergency situations.

The damage to the parkway is so impressive that it was made the setting of a Friday afternoon news conference for U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack.

The three were in Duluth to meet with local officials and tour sites of flood damage.

The city is keeping in contact with the residents cut off by the washout to ensure their needs are met, Duluth Mayor Don Ness said at the new conference. Shortly after, contractors and city engineers arrived to examine the first break encountered from the direction of Spirit Mountain.

A quick bidding process was taking place Friday, said Jim Benning, Duluth's public works director.

"The plan was to give them a few hours to put them together," he said. "We wanted it open to traffic by Wednesday next week."

The second washout is a lesser priority than the first, as only one point of access is necessary, said David Montgomery, the city's chief administrative officer. The stone arch bridge is regularly closed during the winter months. And because it has a place on the National Register of Historic Places, there is state funding to help repair that section, which was allocated before the recent damage.

Affected residents, who include those who live on North 99th and 100th Avenues West, are using a variety of ways to get to work, baseball practice and the grocery store. Some have rented cars that they keep on the other side, or carried bikes down and up through the break. Others have been picked up by friends, and one resident uses her horse.

Russell Stover is a former City Council member who lives between the two washouts. He said he'd rather be locked in during the summer than in the winter, as residents sometimes are because of deep snow. Stover, who uses a wheelchair, considers himself the most immobile resident affected.

"And I am fine staying put," he said, noting that he took time off from work since he couldn't leave the area as others have.

Teacher Scott Kylander-Johnson has been riding his bike to work at Marshall School, where he is running a bike camp this week.

"It hasn't been that big of a deal yet," he said of the washouts. "It's more of an inconvenience for friends who have to pick me up."

Resident Larry Varhalla isn't happy with the situation and the fact that repair work hasn't begun yet, he said, but he understands many areas of the city were affected. He's missed three days of work, he said, and has been using the trails to drive his four-wheeler to a nearby convenience store to pick up groceries for neighbors.

"It's passable but pretty rough," he said.

Jacob and Connor Stover, ages 12 and 10 and both members of Boy Scout Troop 25 of West Duluth, used their skills to find a way to cross the crevasse when it was first discovered. The same skills were used to make the route as safe as it could be, with ropes and large rocks. Jacob Stover said he's enjoyed surveying the two washouts.

"It proves how strong Mother Nature is," he said.