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1 Year Later: The Progress Made After Duluth Flooding

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s been one year since 10 inches of rain washed out streets, homes and businesses in Duluth — even the zoo was hit.

It is one of those anniversaries you acknowledge, but don’t celebrate. After the floods, there was approximately $100 million in damages and some 3100 homes and businesses affected.

Since then, residents have made great progress, but much work remains.

At the Lake Superior Zoo Thursday, there was a far different kind of flood: thousands of guests getting in — free of charge.

It’s the Zoo’s way of giving back.

“Basically, being a caring community, everyone stepped up. Everyone,” Lake Superior Zoo Director Peter Pruett said. “This is a way to celebrate that.”

Floodwaters killed 14 zoo animals and the polar bear and seal exhibits were heavily damaged.

The significance of today’s open house wasn’t lost on guests.

“It shows how everyone kinda really got together to help everybody out,” visitor Linda Schurter said.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness says the city’s 40 streams carried floodwaters with devastating force.

“That’s where our systems are in place — the culverts, the bridges — were simply overwhelmed by the volume of velocity of the water carried down the hill with such great force,” Ness said. “Even from the beginning we knew it would be a two year process to fully recover from the flood.”

Giant sinkholes that gobbled up cars and collapsed walls have since been repaired. A railroad bridge no longer dangles by the tracks. Also, fears the flooding would hurt this area’s lifeblood, tourism, were washed away by a record year.

“And I hope that a year from now we are able to look back and say ‘we’re real proud of the effort we made,’” Ness said.

In fact, Duluth saw a jump by about 5 percent in tourism revenue. It was badly needed in a year where many of these small businesses had to pay for flood cleanup.

Homeowners Still Paying For Repairs Out Of Pocket

Approximately 3,100 homes in the Northland were damaged by the flooding — 72 outright destroyed. For many homeowners who were promised aid, they’re paying for repairs out of their own pockets.

To fully appreciate the pace of a flood recovery, one needs to peer inside Judith O’Neill’s Fond Du Lac neighborhood home.

“Just to get to this point, you tear out walls, ceilings, and the insulation all has to come down. All new wiring all new plumbing,” O’Neill said, pointing to her living room.

Her home appears more like a wooden skeleton with the entire inside gutted. Worse yet, she’s paying for it out of her own pocket.

She’s frustrated by the lack of federal aid and said she hasn’t seen any of the money donated to help flood victims.

“Not a dime, not a dime. There was a lot of money was donated to these agencies, but not nobody I’ve spoken to has received a dime,” O’Neill said.

It’s estimated the flooding caused over $100 million in damages to both public and private property. Federal disaster assistance will help pay for public infrastructure costs. Homeowners like O’Neill can only get assistance through an assortment of low interest loans.

Still, homeowners feel left behind by the promises of a full recovery.

“You read different things and everybody thinks, ‘oh, we’re fine. And a year later everything’s been accomplished.’ That’s not true, absolutely not true,” O’Neill said.

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