NEW: "It feels like a whale is swallowing us," a Minnesota resident says
NEW: Big Sandy Lake should crest June near record highs, the Army Corps says
Some places in Minnesota and Wisconsin still under flooding warnings
Roads and parks are closed after intense flash flooding
Days after torrential rains caused intense flash flooding, residents of northeastern Minnesota and neighboring Wisconsin spent Friday coping with the aftermath – including numerous road closures and continued worries about still dangerously high waters.
Flood warnings remained in effect for parts of Burnett, Pine and Carlton counties in Minnesota, as well as in Ashland County, Wisconsin, even though waters in some creeks and rivers were receding, the National Weather Service said.
Many of these warnings extend through Sunday, though the flooding concerns may not abate then. Water levels in Big Sandy Lake, which is about 60 miles west of Duluth, are rising at a rate of one foot per day, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports. The lake is expected to crest June 30 just above or below record highs.
In Ashland County, emergency management officials were discouraging travel because most roads in the county had been compromised by water, according to the National Weather Service.
Hundreds of people in the cities of Barnum, Moose Lake and Thomson were either partially or fully evacuated, and the city of Willow River was under a boil-water order, state officials said.
“It feels like a whale is swallowing us, like we’re swimming in an ocean,” Kris Huse, a city council member in Moose Lake whose own backyard was inundated by water, told CNN affiliate KBJR. “I feel like I have to save the town.”
Minnesota officials have requested federal damage assessment assistance in 14 counties, the first step in deciding whether Gov. Mark Dayton will ask for federal disaster assistance funding, according to the Minnesota Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
More than 150 people remained in Minnesota shelters on Friday, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
The floods followed heavy storms Sunday through Tuesday that dropped as much as 10 inches of rain on Duluth and neighboring communities, according to the weather service.
The flooding washed out roads and bridges, inundated neighborhoods and killed 11 animals at the Duluth zoo.
No people were reported dead in Minnesota, but three fatalities were reported in Clark County, Wisconsin. Those three were in two cars that crashed Wednesday on a washed-out road, the state emergency management agency said.
A calamity was averted near Proctor, Minnesota, when an 8-year-old boy was swept into a culvert while playing in flood waters. But after floating six or seven blocks, he survived the ordeal except for a few scrapes, the National Weather Service said.
Numerous roads remained closed in Minnesota, and Jay Cooke, Moose Lake and Savanna Portage state parks were closed until further notice due to flooding damage, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.
Recovery will be a long process, KBJR quoted Duluth Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery as saying.
“This is going to take months in many cases,” he said. “It’ll take upwards to a year and into next year for some of the major items.”
Images of flooding and aftermath
Officials at Lake Superior Zoo were tallying damage there after water surged through the park, leaving 11 animals dead and allowing several others to briefly escape their enclosures.
CNN iReporter Ellie Burcar snapped a picture of one of the escaped animals, a seal, on the road outside the zoo early Wednesday morning.
“The amazing thing is that the seal was moving across Grand Ave heading (toward) the Lake Superior Zoo as if it just wanted to go home,” Burcar said.
The zoo moved some animals to other facilities, and some were being kept in quarantine inside the zoo’s animal care building during cleanup efforts, the zoo said in a statement posted to its website.
The zoo is planning a volunteer cleanup project this weekend.
Seal survives being washed away during flood
Despite the damage, Minnesota officials stressed that Duluth and many state parks in the northwest part of the state are open for tourism and tried to highlight at least one positive effect from the recent storms.
“The waterfalls are incredible right now,” state emergency managers said in an update Thursday.