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Fort Frances, Ontario resident Nathan Calder said the town's Rainy Lake shorefront would normally be busy this time of year with beach-goers, baseball games and drivers cruising up the riverfront. 

For weeks, Fort Frances residents and those in the neighboring Minnesota communities of International Falls and Ranier have watched Rainy Lake and Rainy River waters rise to historic levels

Now, the scenic shorefront has vanished, resorts are closed and the mood is somber at best — communities in the Rainy Lake Basin saw severe flooding in 2014, but efforts made to mitigate future flood damage after that event seem inconsequential now. 

"As bad as it was then, it was nothing like it is right now," Calder, a lifelong Fort Frances resident, said Thursday. "I've never seen flooding in the areas that I'm seeing right now." 

Even with tireless sandbagging efforts and water pumping, Calder said some island property owners are getting ready to consider their residences a loss. 

"A lot of people I think are kind of overlooking how bad it is because they're not near the lake or dealing with any of the impacts of the flooding," he said. 

Ranier Mayor Dennis Wagner said the locals are hardy people, but the flood is breaking a lot of spirits. 

"Houses are literally gone," he said. "There isn't a dock on any lake left." 

Wagner, 70, said many local residents are older than him and can't maneuver sandbags — the National Guard is filling sandbags, but can't go on private property. 

Other volunteer groups are stepping up to help, but the challenge is massive — the fast-rising watershed spans over half-a-million acres. 

Many residents say they'll sell once the flood passes, Wagner said. 

"They are going to fight this battle and they are gone," he said. "They aren't going to do it again." 

Voluntary evacuation ordered

In International Falls, authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order Thursday ahead of closing County Road 136 due to flood waters.

The closure cut-off access to 24 homes, according to the Koochiching County Sheriff's Office. At the Backus Community Center, authorities set up a checkpoint where evacuated residents are asked to report and be accounted for.

An additional 50 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard arrived in International Falls on Thursday night to assist with ongoing sandbagging operations.

Flood levels highest in 72 years

Rainy Lake levels recorded Friday in Fort Frances showed water levels had reached the all-time record set in 1950. 

Rainy Lake water levels recorded at Fort Frances by the Lake of the Woods Control Board on Friday, June 3. 

Rainy Lake water levels recorded at Fort Frances by the Lake of the Woods Control Board on Friday, June 3. 

Bring Me The News meteorologist Sven Sungaard said International Falls set a daily record of 2.18" inches of rainfall on Memorial Day. 

There's not much additional rain in the forecast, Sungaard said Friday, but all the rain from the past week is still making its way through all the tributaries and into the Rainy River system and lakes, causing levels to continue to rise. 

Flood recovery

This week, the International Falls Area Chamber of Commerce called on Gov. Tim Walz to direct more resources to the region. 

"The Rainy Lake residents and waterfront businesses desperately need help in the form of equipment and financial resources to help those who are being evacuated from their homes and displaced," Board Chair Leif Larsen wrote in a statement. 

On Thursday, while the relentless rain began to fall again outside, Wagner said the community will never be the same. 

He's worked in the flood recovery construction business for more than five decades, building dikes in places like Grand Forks and Minot. 

This week, he's been contacting federal lawmakers to discuss what's next for his community. If they can secure the funding, he said, a major rehabilitation project is what Ranier will need. 

"But you lose a lot of things," he said. "You might feel better after the operation, but the operation is awful painful." 

BMTN Note: Weather events in isolation can't always be pinned on climate change, but the broader trend of increasingly severe weather and record-breaking extremes seen in Minnesota and across the globe can be attributed directly to the rapidly warming climate caused by human activity. The IPCC has warned that Earth is "firmly on track toward an unlivable world," and says greenhouse gas emissions must be halved by 2030 in order to limit warming to 1.5C, which would prevent the most catastrophic effects on humankind. You can read more here.

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