Flooding causes minor road damage, major communication outage
Cook County was hit with heavy rain the night of Tuesday, June 19 and throughout the day on Wednesday, June 20, resulting in some washed out roads and driveways. There were reports ranging from 4 to 8 inches in different areas of the county. However Cook County received nowhere near the damage that the cities of Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin did in the storm. The worst effect of the storm was the disruption of communication for Cook County—at about midnight on June 19, Cook County lost its Internet connection, cell phone service, long-distance phone service and most devastating, its 911 emergency response system.
Cook County Roads weather storm well
While Duluth and Two Harbors received so much rain—up to 9 inches in some locations—that roads buckled, houses toppled into the Knife River, parking lots became lakes and zoo animals drowned, further up the shore was relatively unscathed. Roads came through the storm fairly well, said County Engineer David Betts. Reached by phone as the rain finally subsided on Wednesday, Betts said, “We lost a lot of gravel and road edges, but we fared better than we did in the Memorial Day storm.”
The highway department was prepared for the worst. County Highway Maintenance Supervisor Russell Klegstad said he was out checking potential problem areas at 3 a.m. Crews were at work on trouble spots by 6 a.m. The entire crew—14 people—was working. “We were scattered all over the county,” he said.
The most problematic spots were on County Road 60 where the water flooded across the road; Cascade Beach Road (County Road 97), which was down to one lane at one point but is now open; and Caspers Hill Road, which still needed some repairs from the Memorial Day washout. The gravel shoulders of the Cramer Road are extremely washed out and Klegstad said people should be very careful driving there.
At press time on Wednesday, Klegstad said water was off most of the county roads, but he urged people to use caution in several areas, especially if more rain is received. He said areas where extra caution should be used are on Pike Lake Road (County Road 45); Caspers Hill Road (County Road 68); Moose Valley Road (County Road 71) and on the west end of County Road 14.
For the summer, road crews are on a four 10-hour day work schedule, with Fridays off, but this week, Klegstad said, they will work Friday to complete assessment of the county’s entire road system and to make repairs.
“We had a few scary moments, but everything stayed passable,” said Betts.
U.S. Forest Service roads suffered relatively little damage as well, said USFS Civil Engineer John Olson. Reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon, Olson said he was not aware of any culverts washed out or major damage. “For us it was not much different than any other heavy summer rain.”
Highway 61 washed out in Lake County
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, that was not the case in Lake and St. Louis counties. On Wednesday, numerous roads were closed or detoured in those counties due to flooding, erosion and mudslides. Road closures were listed in Duluth, Cloquet, Carlton, Proctor, and Fond du Lac. Highway 61 was closed near the Silver Cliff Tunnel and at Knife River. Numerous road shoulders were also washed out. Travel was not advised until conditions improved, but by Thursday, June 21, most roads had been reopened or detours established. A local family heading to the Wisconsin Dells reported that they encountered only one detour, which added about 15 minutes to their trip.
Motorists are advised to plan accordingly in case of delays. Travelers can visit www.511mn.org or call 511 for the latest travel information.
Cyber highway a concern for Cook County
More of a concern than washed out roads for Cook County was the lack of connection to the world via the Internet. Internet coverage of the North Shore was severed shortly after midnight on Wednesday, June 19 when the flood damaged a bridge on Knife River and cut the fiber optic cable. That also meant that there was no cell phone coverage; no long distance service; no service between calling areas (i.e., between numbers with 663, 387 or 475 exchanges); and most importantly, no 911 emergency response service.
Law Enforcement radios worked and members of area fire departments were paged to their respective fire halls to stand by for emergencies. In case of an emergency during a communication crisis, Cook County residents and visitors are instructed to go to the nearest fire hall where radio communication is available. The local radio station, WTIP, also broadcast emergency information.
Local firefighters and First Responders spent about 13 hours standing by at area fire halls. Cook County Public Health and Human Services and Cook County Sheriff Deputies worked together to identify people who rely on medical alert systems, which use long-distance service. Sheriff deputies traveled to those homes to ensure that those people were safe and aware that phone service was temporarily out.
The cyber connection to the rest of the world was restored between 2 and 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20, with cell phone service being restored first. Next community members were able to get back online and by 3 p.m. the 911 emergency system had been restored for most of the county. It took an additional half hour for 911 service to come back online in the Grand Portage 475 exchange.
At press time, Cook County Chief Deputy Leif Lunde said he was unaware of any issues caused because of the 911 system outage.
Basements, buildings flooded
Although the flooding in Cook County did not even come close to that in the Duluth area, there are folks conducting flood cleanup at press time. Dozens of basements flooded and the Grand Marais Public Library had water leaking into the building along its north wall. The library closed its doors until Friday, June 22.
On Wednesday, library staffer Patsy Ingebrigtsen said water had leaked into the building in the librarian's office, staff area and some of the public area. Library staff were moving things to clean up the water with a water extractor and fans loaned from School District 166. “Everyone’s been extremely helpful,” Ingebrigtsen said.
Asked if any books or equipment had been damaged, Ingebrigtsen said no, explaining that preventing any damage was the reason the library closed. “We decided to close to focus all of our attention on taking care of this.”