Rains set record; flooding widespread in lakes area

While on their way to work Tuesday morning, three electricians never expected to accidentally land a stunt fit for a Hollywood movie. As the men in their work truck approached what from a distance in the early dawn light appeared to be a black ho...

Jorge Chuey (left) and Todd Pietila take a break from biking to go swimming in a flooded area at Memorial Park Tuesday in Brainerd. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)
Jorge Chuey (left) and Todd Pietila take a break from biking to go swimming in a flooded area at Memorial Park Tuesday in Brainerd. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

While on their way to work Tuesday morning, three electricians never expected to accidentally land a stunt fit for a Hollywood movie.

As the men in their work truck approached what from a distance in the early dawn light appeared to be a black hose across Aitkin County Road 4, they realized-too late-the road was actually washed away. Tim Henrichs of Brainerd was driving the truck, and without time to stop, he stepped on the gas and launched the truck across the canyon formed by rushing water.

"We walked up to it and it was hard to believe we went over that without getting hurt or anything," said Brian Oren of Crosby, a passenger in the truck. "We just kept looking at each other like, 'How in the heck did we make it across that?'"

Oren said after they crossed the washed out stretch of road, more pavement crumbled into the water below. The group measured the gap and found it was 3 feet wide, 8 feet long and 10 feet deep.

After reaching 911 operators after several tries in an area with little cellphone reception, the trio, which also included Brad Hanson of Aitkin, remained stationed at the chasm for about an hour to direct traffic. The men used flashing beacons on their Holden Electric work truck to warn oncoming drivers, and Oren said they turned away about 10 vehicles from the dangerous location. Aitkin County highway crews arrived about 6:30 p.m. to begin repairing the washout.


"I would definitely say, slow down, if there's heavy rain like that again," Oren said. "It's something I'd never experienced, but I'll never forget that. ... It happened so fast, by the time we got to it, it was too late. Thank God we just kind of floated over it."

Given the dire flash flood warnings, rapidly deteriorating conditions and torrential rains Monday night, Crow Wing County officials expected the worst as dawn approached Tuesday. But the Aitkin area appeared to be experiencing the brunt of Monday's torrential rains. County Engineer Tim Bray told the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday the situation was more manageable than initially thought.

The Brainerd lakes area was not, however, immune to the fallout from rainfall totals as high as 8.9 inches within less than 24 hours. The National Weather Service forecast office in Duluth listed July's rainfall to date as record-setting for total precipitation with less than half the month gone.


Flood warning remains in effect

A flood warning remains in effect for the Mississippi River near Fort Ripley until 9 p.m. Sunday. At 7 a.m. Tuesday the river was at 8.7 feet at Fort Ripley. Flood stage for that stretch of the Mississippi River is 10 feet and moderate flood stage is 12.5 feet. A major flood stage is 26 feet. The river at Fort Ripley is expected to rise above flood stage early today and continue to rise, climbing to nearly 13 feet by Friday afternoon. Once the river reaches 12 feet, the boat landing and parking lot at the public access at Fort Ripley will be under water.

"This crest compares to a previous crest of 14.3 feet on March 23, 1966," the weather service reported.

At Aitkin, the Mississippi River hit flood stage at 13 feet and was still rising as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The river should be back below flood stage in Aitkin by July 19. The river reaches moderate flood stage in Aitkin at 15 feet, which the river is expected to reach Thursday and Friday. Major flood stage begins at 18 feet. The record crest is 22.49 feet on May 20, 1950.


In Brainerd, the benefits of high banks played out again as the river experienced a meteoric rise from just under 7 feet at 5 p.m. July 9 to 14.36 feet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The water rose in a surge from less than 10 feet to nearly 14 feet Tuesday alone.

The record flood stage for the river in Brainerd is 17.61 feet, set June 28, 2012, in the aftermath of the record-setting heavy rains from June 19-20, 2012, that wreaked havoc on northeastern and central Minnesota. As much as 10 inches of rain fell in the 2012 rains, which came after one of the wettest Mays on record, the U.S. Geographic Survey reported. Nine Minnesota counties were declared federal disaster areas after that flood. Eighteen of the top 26 historic crests in Brainerd are from the spring thaw months with just three of those top crests coming in July.


Highest observed area rain totals

  • Brainerd-8.9 inches
  • Aitkin-6.13 inches
  • Nisswa-5.6 inches
  • Breezy Point-5.49 inches
  • Wolford Township-5.25 inches
  • McGregor-4.58 inches

  Source: National Weather Service in Duluth.



County responds to washouts, watches lake levels


Bray said two separate washouts 2 miles apart on County Road 105 in the Second Assessment District and Perry Lake Township made it impossible for a short time for residents to leave the area. Also closed were portions of Spruce Road in Ironton and County Road 110 in Deerwood. Several other roads throughout the county were covered with standing or flowing water Tuesday.

Bray said infrastructure is typically designed for a 100-year storm-that is, the largest storm expected once a century. This rain event exceeded that, he said.

"This is certainly something you can't design for," Bray told the board. "That's why we're in reaction mode."

Bray said the other concern for county officials is the water levels in Black Bear and Miller lakes near the Mississippi River west of Trommald. A dyke regulates water levels of the lakes in the low-lying area, directing overflow into the river to prevent flooding of homes. Bray said although the lake level is currently higher than the river, should the river level meet or exceed the lake level it would require the gate to be shut and possibly the use of pumps to assure backflow does not occur.

John Bowen, Crow Wing County emergency management director, said the county learned a lot from the flooding events of 2012, when they used pumps for 24 hours a day at the dyke. He said pumps are arriving today in case their use is required.

"I think they're getting closer and closer to shutting the gate down," Bowen said.


Basements flood across area

Bowen said he heard numerous reports of flooded basements throughout the area and volunteers with the Salvation Army were assisting residents facing flooding issues in their homes Tuesday.

One Deerwood family on Serpent Road was forced out of the home Monday night because of flooding.

Deerwood Mayor Mike Aulie said the city received about 7 to 10 inches of rain and there was some flooding in town, but only one home-on Serpent-had 3 feet of water in the basement. He said those who lived there found a different place for the night.

Aulie said the city is almost complete with building a catchwater basin by its public swimming beach area, the lowest part of the city, and it held up well during the rainstorm. Aulie said its lift station pumps that flow to the sewer districts were full, but did not overflow, which was good.

"We had some wash-ups along some of the side roads, but nothing major," Aulie said. "The ground is very saturated around here. I wouldn't be surprised to see any trees go down."

Aulie said city crews assisted Crosby with flooding issues.

Crosby Mayor Joanna Lattery said there is standing water in the city park, several residents have water in their basements and there were some trees down.

"People who have never had water in their basements got water in their basement," Lattery said. "It came down fast and furious and it didn't have anywhere to go."

Crosby Police Chief Kim Coughlin said her heart goes out to all the people with water in their basements or with flooding issues. Crosby police were out during the night making sure people who were staying in the campground/park area were safe as water was backing up on the roads.

Coughlin said her mother's basement was flooding and she and other family members went to help her through the night to about 3 a.m. Tuesday.

"We started moving things around as water was coming in through every wall," Coughlin said. "When it finally stopped, slowed down, I think we had between 250-300 gallons of water that we got out of there."

Coughlin said a culvert broke on Second Street Southeast and flooded a resident's yard.

Brainerd resident Amy Broneak Carlson, who lives on Legionville Road, said her family's home had water in the basement and they had flooding in their yard.

"I couldn't tell you how many inches we had in the basement, but if we didn't get home when we did around 5 p.m., things could've been a whole lot worse," Carlson stated in a message. "We were able to get things off the floor and start with the shop vacs we had. We keep filling and dumping, over and over.

"At this moment, water is still seeping in through places. ... We are lucky compared to some for sure."


Brainerd ponds, parks fill

Brainerd City Engineer Jeff Hulsether reported a city crew was pumping the stormwater pond near the South Haven Apartments on South Eighth Street until almost midnight Monday night. The pumping was necessary to prevent the pond from overflowing into the basement units.

"Our storm sewer systems are not designed to accommodate that intensity of rainfall, but we seem to have made it through with minimal damage," Hulsether said via email.

The city received reports of water in basements, but so far those appear to be groundwater and unrelated to the sanitary sewer system, Hulsether said.

Brainerd Park Director Tony Sailer said Brainerd Jaycees Park was under water, about knee- to waist-deep. Sailer said a retaining pond near Memorial Park overflowed its banks and began flooding the sides of the parking lot and was approaching the field. The fields at Buffalo Hills Park were dry, but there was standing water between the parking lot and the fields.

Sailer said staff at Parks and Recreation moved games, but all the fields-except the ones at Jaycees-would be utilized.

Sailer said there were seven mallards swimming at Lum Park in the standing water and there were a lot of seagulls hanging around Memorial Park.

Earl Wolleat, director of buildings and grounds for Brainerd Public Schools, said the district got through the rain pretty well. The retention pond at the lower site at Brainerd High School where the athletic fields are located "worked amazingly well," he said. The pond took all the rain in, he said, which prevented Don Adamson Field from flooding.

Pumps were working to move the water from the pond into the Mississippi River, he said. Valves will ensure water from the river doesn't backflow into the fields during that process, Wolleat said. A couple of roof leaks were addressed Tuesday.

"Generally, we came through the rainstorm in real good condition," Wolleat said.


Landslide affects Pequot elementary retention wall

Portions of two retention walls at Eagle View Elementary in Breezy Point toppled in the storm, Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm confirmed Tuesday. A 5-foot section of an upper retention wall crashed into a lower section, taking out another 10- to 15-foot section, Lindholm said. The land beneath the walls appeared to have given way, sending the pieces of wall cascading to Nickel Road below.

Breezy Point city crews responded to clear the road. Lindholm said school officials began the process of submitting an insurance claim and contacted the contractor, who built the wall initially, to work on replacement as soon as possible.

Bowen documented the damage as part of a potential disaster funding request from the state, should the county meet certain thresholds.


Cass County says 'no wake'

Due to high water on lakes throughout the county, the Cass County Sheriff's Office advised a no wake area within 300 feet of shoreline on all area lakes until water levels recede.

Sheriff Tom Burch reminded homeowners to take caution and ensure boat lifts, boats, docks and rafts are properly secured and not floating loose. Burch urged boaters to use extreme caution and be respectful of property while in high water areas, especially channels, due to increased swift currents.

There were several reports of property damage, along with docks, floating bogs and other items that floated loose from the shore.

"Careless operation of watercraft laws will be enforced," a news release stated.

Burch said some roads had water over them, but they were not flooded.

"There are a lot of trees down, but no building damage," Burch said of the storm, which was round two, as the county had a storm roll through late Saturday night through early Sunday morning. The storm left trees down blocking roads until workers were able to clear them.

"We got a lot of rain and it raised the lake levels," Burch said. "We're hoping folks will slow down and wait for the water to recede."


A chance to dry out

The lakes area had a chance to dry out with sunshine, a high of 81 and a steady breeze with gusts up to 35 mph. But rain is back in the forecast along with continued breezy conditions. Today there is a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms before 11 a.m. and again after 2 p.m. The chance for showers and thunderstorms increases to 40 percent tonight before 11 p.m. and a 20 percent chance after 2 a.m. Thursday. The rain pattern repeats for an anticipated cloudy Thursday along with a cool down. Thursday's high may top out at 68 degrees before climbing back into the mid-70s by Friday when the sun returns. Through the weekend and into early next week, the National Weather Service forecast indicates a chance for showers and thunderstorms every day with highs ranging from the mid-70s to mid-80s. The weather service reports while the chance for thunderstorms continues, storms are not expected to be severe.




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