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Under water: Flash flood rocks Duluth

Thunder Bay’s sister city of Duluth is under a state of emergency after heavy rainfall deluged the Minnesota community overnight.
A car rests in a sinkhole on Wednesday after floodwaters and heavy rains ravaged Duluth. (Submitted by Dave Clark)

Thunder Bay’s sister city of Duluth is under a state of emergency after heavy rainfall deluged the Minnesota community overnight.

Police have advised motorists to stay off the roadways except for emergencies because of damage done by the rain and flash flooding, leaving many routes under water, vulnerable to sinkholes or dotted with open manhole covers.

Portions of Interstate-35 south to Minneapolis are impassable.

Though no humans have been reported injured in the storm, which dropped up to nine inches of rain on the port city, the Lake Superior Zoo did suffer losses. Up to 11 animals, mostly from their barnyard exhibit, including a beloved donkey, were killed. A seal and polar bear also escaped captivity because of rising waters.

The polar bear was darted by the zoo veterinarian and is in quarantine, while the seal was spotted by a passing motorist on Grand Avenue and returned to captivity by emergency crews.

Officials say because of the flooding, the worst to hit the city in 40 years, people should stay inside and out of harm's way.

“The Duluth Police Department is asking citizens to remain at home and any travel needs to be for emergencies only,” police state in a release issued early Wednesday morning.

“Also, any calls to 911 should be for emergency purposes only.”

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton is scheduled to visit the city on Thursday to assess the damage.

On his Facebook page, Duluth Mayor Don Ness implored people living in low-lying areas to seek higher ground.

“We have a co-ordinated response with city, county, State Patrol, Coast Guard, Red Cross and the feds (are) ready to help,” Ness writes. “I’ve been very impressed with the co-ordinated efforts to this point. Thank you to the leaders from across the state offering their help and support. There is another band of rain on (its) way, so it is likely to get worse before it gets better.”

Officials with the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District said prolonged rains have caused an overflow of the sewer system.

"We are presently assessing the extent of overflows in our system," said Marianne Bohren, WLSSD executive director, in a release. "No information is currently available regarding the overflow locations and volumes of overflows.  This is a dangerous and significant storm, causing major flooding and preventing us from gathering details." 

Residents are being cautioned to avoid contact with sewer overflow because of the danger of exposure to disease-causing organisms.

Duluth city hall has been closed for the day, with non-essential staff being told to remain at home.

The following road closures have been reported: 

London Road at 43rd Street
I 35 between Carlton and Mahtowa
I 35 from Central Ave to 26th Ave East/London Road
Hwy 2 from I 35 to Boundary Ave (downbound only) in Proctor, right 2 lanes are closed
Hwy 2 from the Iron Horse Bar and Grill to the golf course
Hwy 23 South of Duluth
Hwy 23 in Fond du Lac
Hwy 33 in Cloquet
Hwy 33 at milepost 9 near Independence
Hwy 53 near Miller Hill Mall in Duluth
Hwy 61 near Silver Creek Tunnel
Hwy 61 at Knife River
Hwy 200 between Hwy 2 and Hwy 65
Hwy 210 completely closed through Jay Cooke State Park
Hwy 73 closed at four locations – reference posts 31.5, 46.3, 47.4, and 27.4 (southbound lane)
Hwy 65 from reference posts 107 to 112.6, closed under two feet of water
Hwy 2 between 220.7 through 232.0 completely closed
Hwy 200 between Hwy 2 and 65

The following streets in the West side of Duluth are closed:
Superior St at 34th Ave West to 40th Ave West
Chambersburg Street to Piedmont Ave
Skyline Drive west of Spirit Mountain
Skyline Drive from 40th Ave West to Highland Street
Skyline Drive at 40th Ave West to 26th Ave West
Cody Street
38th Ave West and West 5th Street, bridge washed out
Most gravel roads are impassable

East side of Duluth:
Superior Street at 8th Ave E
Pleasant View
Airpark Drive
Skyline Drive – Kent Rd to Chester Park Drive
8th Ave East
1st Ave East
Kenwood Ave to Skyline Parkway
South and middle roads off Howard Gnesen
9th Street bridge
St. Marie St. closed
West Arrowhead Rd off of Woodland Ave
13th Ave East off of 9th Street
Dodge Street

Donations are being accepted through the Red Cross Northland by visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Contributions may also be sent to the local Northland Chapter of the American Red Cross chapter at 2524 Maple Grove Road, Duluth, MN  55811 or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.