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Storms wash out roads, wreak havoc in Minnesota

The aftermath of strong Monday night storms dominated life for many Minnesota and Wisconsin residents Tuesday. In central and northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, rising floodwater was the problem. In central and west-central Minnes...

The aftermath of strong Monday night storms dominated life for many Minnesota and Wisconsin residents Tuesday.

In central and northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, rising floodwater was the problem. In central and west-central Minnesota, it was cleaning up from a series of tornadoes.

The most dramatic story came from Michigan Island in the Apostle Islands, just off the northwestern Wisconsin shore of Lake Superior, where 33 people were trapped. Emergency personnel spent much of the day evacuating them. At nearby Saxon Harbor, 85 boats were damaged or destroyed and one person died.

Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk said Mitchell R. Koski, 56, of Montreal, Wis., was pronounced dead by the county coroner. Furyk attributed the fatality to the storm but offered no further details, saying the incident was under investigation.

Minnesota officials activated the state emergency operations center Tuesday to deal with weather issues.

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They were watching the rivers rise in locations such as Fort Ripley and Aitkin, where they were expected to be above flood stage. By midday, boat landings and other low areas already were under water.

Flood warnings for some areas were expected to remain in effect through into the weekend. Some of the worst flooding was in the Brainerd Lakes area and between St. Cloud and Hinckley.

"This could get into a very dangerous and life-threatening situation," said Dan Miller of the National Weather Service in Duluth.

Miller said many visitors in the Brainerd Lakes area may be unfamiliar with the area and are particularly at risk if camping near water or in areas with only one or two access points.

He said the rainfall, which ranged up to 10 inches, was reminiscent of flash flooding in Duluth four years ago.

The weather service said the Aitkin sewage treatment plant could flood and a large chunk of Aitkin County Road 4 washed out.

"We have water on most of our road systems," John Welle, Aitkin County road and bridge director, said.

There were numerous other washouts and closures across Pine County.

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Water levels also had some impact on many northern Minnesota  lakes. Some lakes had low water levels before the rain. Other lakes saw a surge of water that was comparable to 2012 levels. Cass County has made a countywide expansion to no wake zones on lakes. Following rainstorms, 300 feet from lake shorelines are now no wake zones. This is meant to prevent unnecessary damage to shorelines and property located on shorelines. In addition, high water has resulted in watercraft drifting, unmanned, across area lakes.

Moose Lake, in Carlton County, was among the communities where the torrential rainfall overwhelmed storm sewers and forced street closures Monday night.

Flooding was also a concern into Tuesday as the Moose Horn River, originating in Sawyer, widens into Moosehead Lake in Moose Lake, where it exits to catch up with the Kettle River 5 miles downstream. The Moose Lake Police Department reported late Tuesday that sandbagging efforts were underway, and the lake was rising at about an inch an hour with a crest expected Tuesday night. The city was advising homeowners in low-lying areas to take steps to protect belongings.

Campgrounds in Barnum and Moose Lake along the river were evacuated Monday night.

It was an all-too-familiar experience for John Strongitharm, the retired chief of the Duluth Fire Department.

He’d pulled into Moose Lake City Park early Monday expecting to camp there for the first time since he was a boy. Instead, he pulled his fifth-wheel camper to higher ground nearby and used his heavy-duty pickup to hitch up others’ trailers and evacuate them on what was a busy overnight.

In northwestern Minnesota, the weather service issued a flood warning for the Two Rivers River in Hallock until Sunday afternoon. Minor flooding occurred Tuesday and was expected to persist.

In northwestern Wisconsin, the communities of Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield were cut off from the south and east as numerous roads were flooded.

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The Ashland County Sheriff's Office reported Tuesday that "there are still dangerous areas everywhere in the county. Please exercise extreme caution while traveling today. Our dispatchers and ... officers have been overwhelmed with calls."

Lana Froemming reported encountering several washouts as she tried to find an open route from Ashland to Hayward.

At one point Tuesday morning, Ashland County officials advised motorists to remain off all roads in the area because so many were flooded.

Forum News Service reporters from throughout the Upper Midwest contributed to this story.

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An SUV drives out of 334th Lane near Long Lake southeast of Aitkin on Tuesday. The road, the only way for several residents to access their property, was severely flooded following heavy rains. (Zach Kayser / Forum News Service)

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