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Dayton tours northern Minnesota; south plagued with road closures, flooding

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Rainy Lake and Rainy River remain near record height levels, with flood waters taking over homes and businesses nearby, and residents along the Minnesota-Canada border are preparing for the possibility of more water.

Gov. Mark Dayton traveled to International Falls Tuesday to tour the area, the International Falls Journal reports, shaking the hands of and speaking to residents volunteers as they stacked sandbags.

"It's a disaster," Dayton said, according to the Duluth News Tribune. “It’s real devastation. To see that much water spread out that wide."

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Dayton also called the volunteers' work "inspiring," the paper reports.

International Falls the the surrounding areas are battling relentlessly growing waters from the Rainy River (which enters Minnesota via Lake of the Woods just north of Baudette, and loops eastward before exiting and Rainy Lake.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Rainy River has gone from about 13 feet at the start of the month, to nearly 22 feet on June 18 (as seen in the graph at right).

The river is at its highest level in the 85 years of recorded history, the Lake of the Woods Control Board says.

Rainy Lake, meanwhile, is also at a record level. A control board graph shows, since April, the height at both Bear Pass and Fort Frances has shot straight up – actually going off the chart.

On Tuesday, CBC News Thunder Bay reported that while the Rainy River had actually crested a bit in recent days, Lake of the Woods – on the opposite end of Rainy River from Rainy Lake – is continuing to rise quickly.

The control board has opened all of the dams as much as possible in order to reduce flow – but that's all the board can do at this point, one member tells the CBC.

More flooding to the south

The Department of Public Safety issued a severe storm update Wednesday, as reports of flooded streets and a mudslide plagued Mankato, and counties throughout the southern half of the state assessed the damage while preparing for more.

Roads throughout the area are closed due to the flooding. A real-time map of road closures is available here.

The update said the State Emergency Operations Center is active at level three, meaning staff from HSEM are required to meet with other state officials to determine whether state resources are necessary to recover from the damage. But currently no local officials have requested state resources, it says.

Here's a county-by-county update:

Southeast Region

Blue Earth County

  • County Emergency Operations Center partially activated to respond to mudslide and flooded roads.
  • Highway 66 south of Mankato is closed from Blue Earth County Road 90 to County Road 9

Rice County

  • Emergency Operations Center partially activated to respond to flooding
  • Minnesota Correctional Facility –Faribault has significant flooding in a workshop area. Officials are working with the SEOC logistics staff regarding pumps and sandbags
  • City of Faribault is closely monitoring water levels on the Straight and Cannon River

Steele County

  • Emergency Declaration in place
  • Emergency Operations Center partially activated
  • City is sandbagging public infrastructure
  • Residents are sandbagging private homes

Waseca County

  • Numerous roads closed due to high water

Freeborn County

  • Home in Albert Lea heavily damaged from straight line winds
  • Public Works officials are pumping flooded streets
  • City of Maple Island without power

Southwest Region

Rock County

  • Emergency Declaration signed
  • County reports 20 culverts washed out and travel is limited throughout the county due to road closures
  • County officials estimate 100,000 acres of crop loss. There are 250,000 tillable acres in the county. They report the loss will have a ‘significant economic impact’.
  • Meeting planned for Thursday to discuss damages
  • Blue Mounds State Park is closed until further notice due to storm damage

Brown County

  • County officials conducting damage assessments on township and county roads
  • Mudslide reported on County Road 10

Northern Minnesota

Koochiching County

  • Assessing need for additional sandbagging machine
  • Rainy Lake is predicted to crest in mid-July

St. Louis County

  • Sandbagging efforts continue at Kabetogama

The looming cleanup

The water is damaging everything from personal homes and docks to public roadways.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Highway 11, a major thoroughfare in the town on the U.S.-Canadian border, was closed to traffic. The highway in Loman, about 20 miles west of International Falls, was under 3 feet of water. MPR reporter Cathy Wurzer also spoke with the fire chief of that community. Koochiching County sheriff’s officials said volunteers had filled about 50,000 sandbags. Sheriff’s officials pleaded for volunteers over the weekend.

Red Cross officials said more relief workers and supplies, including a second mobile feeding truck, were heading to International Falls Sunday and Monday, Northland’s News Center reported. Owners of Thunderbird Lodge on Rainy Lake in International Falls report that docks are submerged as the lake level has risen 3 feet above normal, the Associated Press reports.

The area could qualify for emergency aid, from a new fund created by the 2014 state Legislature, the News Tribune reports. A total of $3 million is in the account right now, the paper says, and Dayton said he would wait to see damage estimates until authorizing its use. He also said a special legislative session is possible if more money is needed, the paper reports.

International Falls Mayor Bob Anderson told WDIO the $500,000 damage threshold needed to qualify for the assistance is limited to infrastructure, telling the station he's worried his community wouldn't qualify because mostly private property was affected.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan visited the area Monday, and in a statement said he would work with Dayton and other agencies to "assure that any and all assistance be made available."

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