Rain pounded down for nearly 30 straight hours as roads were quickly submerged by rivers. Pavement cracked and split apart, sinkholes consumed several thoroughfares, and cars were left behind as their occupants looked for higher ground.
This was the scene around the Duluth area during the June 2012 flood, one of the most catastrophic weather events in the city's history. The destruction was so widespread and devastating that Mayor Don Ness and Governor Mark Dayton both declared a State of Emergency. Governor Dayton sent the American Red Cross and the National Guard to aid in the relief efforts.
Several neighborhoods in the East side, such as Kenwood and Woodland, are still undergoing restoration efforts due to the magnitude of the damage. Many roadways were destroyed, resulting in road closures for up to several months, and several are still closed, including Haines Road.
One of these roadways, Seventh Avenue East, was torn asunder between First and Second Street. The roadway was finally fixed after several months of being closed, likely due to larger issues that needed to be addressed more quickly.
Locals that live or work near Seventh Avenue East had differing opinions on the flood cleanup, but several were open to discussing the issue. Mike Tucci, service manager at ExpertTire, said that he had been assessing some of the damage on his own while cleanup was taking place.
"There was about 17 truckloads of dirt that piled up behind us. They got that out right away," Tucci said. "However, fixing the actual Seventh Avenue there, they didn't take care of that for a while."
Tucci said that the damage to the road and its eventual closure hindered the business because it is a main route to ExpertTire. He also talked about the mayor's role in the East end flood cleanup.
"It did seem like he was putting help in the right place in the beginning," Tucci said. "But then everything else comes in, and it just becomes a back burner item."
"Seems to be going well to me," added Andy Likar, who works at St. Benedict's Tavern. "We didn't get hit that hard down here. There was a big mound of dirt in the intersection, but that was it."
Likar said the reasons Seventh Avenue East took longer to fix than other roads in the area had to do with the costs involved.
"The city's broke, so the cash flow is the problem," Likar said.
Travis Eastlick, a resident of the East end, said he felt that the mayor was responsible for the slow response time in fixing Seventh Avenue East.
"I think the mayor is slacking really bad," Eastlick said. "He didn't know how to do his job. In order to get natural disaster relief, you have to go through certain steps."
Eastlick said that the mayor didn't do enough during the city's time of need. A former member of an American Red Cross disaster relief team, Eastlick has been in several hurricanes and said that the disaster here wasn't nearly as bad as those instances.
"The stuff that went on here doesn't even register in any type of disaster-help form," Eastlick said. "The city should be able to take care of this on their own. The only reason we had bad flooding is because they took creeks that have been running for thousands of years and tried to pump them through tiny little pipes."
Statistics for the flood and the subsequent cleanup are unavailable due to the large amount of survey work that still needs to be done, so current statistics can only be considered speculation.
“I’m very proud of our community and our common response to the flood," Ness said. "There has been a tremendous amount of good work done already, but most of the heavy lifting is still ahead of us and will be completed this construction season.”
Ness added that there were some smaller lessons that were learned in hindsight.
“In retrospect, we needed to get to Fond-du-Lac sooner than we did.” Ness said. “It was only a day or two before we had a permanent presence, but it would have been better if we would have had a full team there on day one.”
Ness said that while the city’s coordinated response made him proud, there was certainly room for improvement.