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Aitkin flooding prompts state of emergency

AITKIN--Local officials declared a state of emergency here Tuesday following torrential rains and flash flooding, which prompted authorities to evacuate four campgrounds along the Mississippi and Ripple rivers.

The public access to the Mississippi River at Aitkin near the Aitkin Campground remained flooded on Tuesday. The river was projected to reach anywhere from 15-17 feet by Wednesday morning. Thirteen feet counts as flood stage. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch
The public access to the Mississippi River at Aitkin near the Aitkin Campground remained flooded on Tuesday. The river was projected to reach anywhere from 15-17 feet by Wednesday morning. Thirteen feet counts as flood stage. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch

AITKIN-Local officials declared a state of emergency here Tuesday following torrential rains and flash flooding, which prompted authorities to evacuate four campgrounds along the Mississippi and Ripple rivers.

A section of County Road 4 near Highway 65 southeast of Aitkin was washed out, forcing its closure while the Aitkin County Highway Department worked more than six hours to repair the road.

The National Weather Service revised its initial flood crest prediction of the Mississippi River at Aitkin from 17.9 feet of water by 7 p.m. Tuesday down to 15-17 feet at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Flood stage is 13 feet. Rains that lasted from Sunday to Tuesday swelled the river.

The initial prediction prompted fears the floodwater would overwhelm the sanitary sewer treatment plant, but the plant was functioning normally Tuesday with an external pump deployed to help it along.

However, stormwater infiltrated the sanitary sewer system and the city asked residents to conserve water to avoid overtaxing it.

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"It is not anticipated there will be any major impacts to (local government) service as a result of the Mississippi River reaching flood stage," the city and county said in a joint release. "There will be some flooding of secondary roads and caution should be taken."

With the county's declaration of a state of emergency, the county and local units of government will be eligible to use the state's public disaster assistance fund, the release said.

Reached Tuesday afternoon, Sheriff Scott Turner, who is also Aitkin County's emergency manager, said there were no reports of injuries. Deputies were staffed Monday night, so they didn't have to work overtime, he said.

The heaviest rainfalls occurred in the south and east parts of the county, Turner said.

"Had we got more precipitation, it certainly might be a different conversation," he said.

The NWS forecast for Aitkin predicted a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Wednesday after 1 p.m.

For Wednesday night, a chance of showers and thunderstorms before 10 p.m., then a chance of showers after 1 a.m. The chance of precipitation was 30 percent.

For Thursday, the NWS forecast a 40 percent chance of showers.

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For Thursday night, the service forecast a 30 percent chance of showers before 1 a.m.

Aitkin County Road 4 about 20 miles east of Aitkin closed early Tuesday morning and reopened later that afternoon after a large chunk of it washed out.

John Welle, Aitkin County road and bridge director, said this was the biggest road issue his crews were working on Tuesday, although standing and flowing water was widespread throughout the county.

"We have water on most of our road systems," Welle said.

A portion of County Road 4 about 2 miles west of the intersection with Highway 65 was closed at 6:30 a.m. after a motorist drove over a buckle in the pavement, Welle said. A chasm opened as the road washed away and the motorist stayed to warn people until highway crews arrived, he added.

"It was a big washout," Welle said. "Basically, we had a 2-foot culvert there that should have handled the water, but it didn't, and it started flowing around the pipe."

In the city of Aitkin, crews are preparing for potential flooding as the Mississippi River continues to rise. A temporary culvert was installed along Fourth Avenue Northwest near the river before noon Tuesday, close to the sanitary sewer treatment plant.

Roger Eastey normally lives in the Twin Cities but has vacation property on Long Lake southeast of Aitkin. On Tuesday, he was standing with his neighbors at the end of 334th Lane, the only street that accesses his property. It was completely flooded with knee-high water. The lake had submerged his dock and swept into his lawn, touching his trailer house.

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"Everything's floating," he said.

He's been coming to the spot since the 1960s, and said he would continue to maintain his place there, because of his children and grandchildren.

Additionally, portions of County Roads 54, 75 and 34 were closed due to high water. Welle said the Aitkin flood diversion channel, a trench 5-miles long and 75-feet wide, helps reduce Mississippi flood impacts by diverting the water west. The channel is a static emplacement that functions without anyone having to activate it, he said.

Sandbags are available to Aitkin County residents at the Sheriff's Office.

County residents with questions or concerns can call the office at 218-927-7435 or 888-900-2138. Turner urged residents to report any unsafe situations to the sheriff's office.

Brainerd Dispatch reporter Chelsey Perkins contributed to this report.

ZACH KAYSER may be reached at 218-855-5860 or Zach.Kayser@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZWKayser .

Related Topics: AITKIN COUNTYAITKIN
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