After flood, Duluth returning to normalby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
DULUTH, Minn. — Last week, Duluth was a city in shock. Unprecedented flooding had washed through town, ripping streets to shreds, carrying cars away, and even taking a small boy on a terrifying ride in a culvert. So what's it like in Duluth today? For the most part, life in the city has returned to normal.
Duluth is all about water. There's Lake Superior -- which brings ships from all over the world -- and there are many creeks that pour down the hillside through steep ravines, stitching the city together with parks and hiking trails.
Last week, all that water was way out of control.
But Thursday afternoon at Park Point -- Duluth's five-mile sandbar on Lake Superior -- it's a typical summer weekday. Young people are stretched out on towels or tossing frisbees, and a few hardy souls are playing in the water.
"[It's] cold. Feels nice though: it's hot today," said one young man, Ryan Peterson. "Just a little more debris and runoff from the rain."
"Usually on a day like this it's a lot clearer. There's a lot of runoff in there right now," added his friend Yusef Hassan.
The beach is also more cluttered than usual with debris -- logs and sticks brought in by the waves after roaring down from those streams on the hillside.
Nick Benz is enjoying the beach with his wife Klarissa and their dog, Ruby. Benz is a bartender at the Grandma's Restaurant near the Miller Hill Mall. That whole area was flooded last week, and the restaurant is closed.
Benz said he typically works about 35 hours a week, but since the flood he's only put in about 10 hours. Benz said managers are encouraging workers at other locations to share their shifts.
"So, if someone wants to get rid of a shift they'll call us from Miller Hill and we'll fill in as we can," said Benz.
Driving around town, there's not a lot of evidence of last week's disaster. But many people are making small adjustments in their lives.
At Portland Place Park, on Duluth's hillside, Sonja Eagle is supervising her two sons, Dante and Ian Tyson, as they play on the swings. She lives on the west side of town, and normally she and the kids would be hiking up a wooded trail along Miller Creek, to visit their grandmother.
"We've been taking the Lincoln Park trail for about three years back and forth to my Mom's house," Eagle said. "It was almost a daily routine."
But now, the creekside trail has collapsed in places, and Eagle said it's probably too dangerous for the kids.
"It's pretty crazy. I've never, ever, ever seen it this bad," she said.
Farther up the hill, at the YMCA's summer day camp at Chester Bowl Park, camp director Jenna Gust has had to make some adjustments. During the storm, floodwaters destroyed a small dam in Chester Creek, turning a pond into nothing more than a shallow stream.
"Of course because of the pond -- or lack thereof -- we weren't able to have our canoeing and kayaking," said Gust. "So we were displaced last week and the beginning of this week."
On Monday, about 400 volunteers came to help clean up the park. And another cleanup session is scheduled.
"Seeing the outpouring of volunteers and love for Chester Bowl was awesome," she said. "So we'll get it back going."
Near the top of the hill at the Miller Hill Mall, Grandma's Restaurant -- where Nick Benz usually works -- is surrounded by freezer trucks and cleaning company vans. There's still a faint whiff of sewer here, and the restaurant won't reopen for about a month.
Regional Manager Tony Boen, said the unexpected availability of a trained workforce offers a silver lining for the company. For the first time this year, Grandma's is offering concessions for events at the city's Bayfront Festival Park.
"We just took that on this year," said Boen. "And we were wondering, where are we going to find 40 employees in the middle of the summer? Boom, now we've got them."
Along the hillside, one of the most dramatic events of the flood is still quite visible, and causing headaches.
At the Whole Foods Co-op, an underground creek -- Brewery Creek -- blew out an 18-foot-high retaining wall between the parking lot and the alley. Houses below almost instantly filled up with water and had to be evacuated. Now the alley pavement has collapsed, and there's a 30-foot crater next to it.
Co-op manager Sharon Murphy checked out the devastation from the cafe inside the store.
"They're going to let the water level go down, inspect the entire length of Brewery Creek, see where sections need to be repaired," said Murphy, "and at the same time try to figure out how to accommodate a higher level of water flow, because this was a huge, unexpected event. But now that it's happened, it could happen again."
The store is getting along with a little more than half its usual parking spots, and deliveries have to be unloaded from trucks in the same parking lot by hand, because the alley is blocked off.
Duluth's tourist-oriented businesses say they're worried that many people may be discouraged from visiting because of all the media coverage of flood damage.
But there are plenty of tourists at Canal Park -- hoping for a big ship to slide under the Aerial Lift Bridge into the harbor.
Kelly Elfering from Bird Island, Minn., was a little disappointed in his charter fishing trip.
"There's a lot of debris on the water, trees and branches that we had to fish around," he said, adding that they had to be careful not to get snagged on the debris or run into it with their boat.
They came in early because it was windy, and Elfering was disappointed he only caught four lake trout.
Randy Wymore and his wife came up from Minneapolis on the spur of the moment to celebrate his birthday. They normally come up in the fall.
"You come over the hill and all of a sudden there's just the water, and it looks blue, sometimes you can't even tell the water from the sky," Wymore said. "This time it's very noticeable, as you come over the hill you can see a lot of red in the water."
The red tinge has come from all the runoff from the streets and creeks that has drained into the harbor.
Other than the surprising color of the water, Wymore says Duluth seems pretty normal.
"Everybody's getting on about their business, and it looks like it's just another day."
- All Things Considered, 06/28/2012, 5:41 p.m.