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County officials declare local emergency as floodwaters keep rising

Downtown Cook is barricaded as floodwaters continue to rise Wednesday night, June 19, 2024, following heavy rainfall in northeastern Minnesota.
Contributed
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National Weather Service-Duluth
Downtown Cook is barricaded as floodwaters continue to rise Wednesday night, June 19, 2024, following heavy rainfall in northeastern Minnesota.

The most severe flooding occurred in the central and northern parts of St. Louis County, including Hibbing, Chisholm, Virginia, Biwabik, Ely and Cook.

VIRGINIA — The St. Louis County Board declared a state of local disaster for the county at an emergency meeting Thursday, June 20, in Virginia.

The Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management recommended the declaration due to flood damage to public infrastructure throughout the county, with the most severe flooding occurring in the central and northern parts of the county, including Hibbing, Chisholm, Virginia, Biwabik, Ely and Cook.

The declaration is the first step on the administrative side of the county’s emergency response, allowing it to take advantage of state or federal disaster relief funds.

St. Louis County leaders and law enforcement gather Thursday, June 20, 2024, to lead a press conference on severe flooding and storm damage in the county as a result of Tuesday's severe weather and heavy rainfall.
Megan Buffington
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KAXE
St. Louis County leaders and law enforcement gather Thursday, June 20, 2024, to lead a press conference on severe flooding and storm damage in the county as a result of Tuesday's severe weather and heavy rainfall.

Board Chair Keith Nelson said at a press conference Thursday that he spoke with Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday evening. Nelson emphasized the challenges of emergency response in the county’s many small, remote communities.

“The governor assured me that money could flow very quickly into some of these small communities because they simply don’t have the capacity to do some of these emergency measures without the assistance of the state,” Nelson said.

Nelson estimated there’s been over $50 million in damage in northeastern Minnesota, though the number was a “back-of-the-napkin guess.”

More storm coverage
Road closures across Northland as rivers rage and flooding persists
Nearly 8 inches of rain fell June 18, 2024, near Tower, Minnesota, with numerous other locations seeing in excess of 5 inches.
Intense flash flooding in Northern Minnesota after 6+ inches of rain
As of 6 p.m., the weather service upgraded the flash flood warning to "considerable" flooding, noting several state highways are underwater and street flooding is extensive.
Weather service confirms 4 tornadoes in Minnesota supercell storms
Two of the tornadoes measured at EF-2, with winds reaching 120 mph. One traveled 13 miles on the ground, from north of Crosby to south of Aitkin. Crow Wing County declared a local emergency.
Cuyuna lakes area sees extensive damage from apparent tornado
Late Wednesday, June 12, 2024, Crow Wing County Sheriff Eric Klang said responders continued to assess storm damage in a narrow swath stretching from the Pine River-Backus area through Crosslake and into Aitkin.
Tornado damages trees on Whitefish Chain island's unique old-growth forest
The island was never logged, and the forest is a rare surviving example of an undisturbed old-growth forest of maple and basswood with a rich variety of flowering plants.

More rain to come

Public Works Director Jim Foldesi said the 2012 flooding in Carlton and south St. Louis counties is the only bigger disaster of his 31-year career.

“We are also not out of the woods yet,” he said.

Emergency responders are going door-to-door in the city of Cook to provide pre-evacuation notifications as waters continue to rise. Late Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Duluth estimated the Little Fork River would rise another 6-12 inches over the following 24 hours.

Public Works Director Jim Foldesi
Megan Buffington
/
KAXE
St. Louis County Public Works Director Jim Foldesi shares updates Thursday, June 20, 2024, on the county's response to severe flooding in northeastern Minnesot as a result of heavy rainfall Tuesday.

County officials also noted reservoirs near Duluth are rising and may have to start releasing water downstream.

Already-saturated Northern Minnesota is at marginal risk for heavy rain Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. As of Thursday morning, there’s a 60% chance of an inch of rain or more in southern St. Louis County over the two days.

“If any one of you all have contact information for Mother Nature, we could use that, because that’s going to be something that we’re going to be really looking for some help from her to get us through this situation,” Chair Nelson said.

Nelson noted while disaster response continues, Northern Minnesota is still open for business.

“I think our resorts and everyone want that message out there that, ‘Don’t change your plans,’” Nelson said. “ ... We are doing everything we can to address that, and this is peak season coming for our resort industry and peak season coming for tourists. We are open for business. We want people to come here.”

St. Louis County Commissioner Kevin Nelson speaks of his conversation with Gov. Tim Walz during a press conference Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Virginia concerning flood damage in the county.
Megan Buffington
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KAXE
St. Louis County Commissioner Kevin Nelson speaks of his conversation with Gov. Tim Walz during a press conference Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Virginia concerning flood damage in the county.

Cass County

Cass County appears headed toward a local emergency declaration as well, with early damage estimates to public infrastructure pegged at approximately $132,100.

In a news release, Cass County Sheriff Bryan Welk said damage to trees from strong winds or a possible tornado occurred on the eastern shores of Leech Lake along Highway 200, just east of Cass County Highway 39. Deputies also observed tree damage near Highway 6, Boy Lake and Vermillion Lake, north of Remer.

Several gravel roads in the areas have washouts, though the sheriff’s office noted most were passable following the storm. Some closures have occurred in the Boy River area, and county roads remain impacted. Cass County roads 4, 35, 161, 57, 68 and 53 still had water over the road as of Thursday morning, and 63 is closed due to a culvert washout.

“Crews went out to clear trees and are in the process of assessing the washout damage,” the release stated. “ ... Extra caution should be used in these areas while work to restore roadways occurs.”

More than 1,000 Lake Country Power customers lost electricity in the storm. As of 8 a.m. Thursday, all power was restored.

For Cass County to be eligible for state disaster assistance, it must demonstrate damage equal to $69,151.80 or more.

Megan Buffington joined the KAXE newsroom in 2024 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Pequot Lakes, she is passionate about educating and empowering communities through local reporting.