Saturday, June 30, 2012

The lost files: Thomson, MN/ Jay Cooke Flood 2012

Dane Johnson wading down Dalles Ave, Thomson MN
This is the first frame I took on Dalles Ave in Thomson, MN.  The time is about 6.30 am on Wednesday June 20th.  Unfortunately this shot most likely killed my 16 Gig CF card.  As you can see it was pouring buckets, as it had been doing for hours and hours.  I ended up shooting the full card but it finally shut down and refused to work and I was unable to download the images I had on it.  Frustrating as there are certainly some interesting shots of the peak of the storm itself.  However, thanks to Ryan Marshik of Irent Photo I am able to salvage some shots.  He is using some of his magic software to tease out as many of my shots as possible from the defective CF Card.

Thanks again Ryan!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Boots on the Ground Thomson, MN Flood 2012: Christian Aid Ministries Volunteers

Many hands make short work

These folks make piles go away

Boots on the ground

Pete's stuga 

Lunch at town hall everyday till its gone

Boots and hats off for lunch

Hauling endless stuff to the piles on the street
I have alluded to the help we have had from the Christian Aid Ministries Disaster relief team.  These folks brought in around 20-30 people from all over the midwest.  They are Mennonite and Amish followers of Christ.   Without their help, we would still be swimming in debris, there is no doubt about it.  The double rub with a small community like Thomson is that most folks dont have the choice to not work.  That said, many folks were either cleaning at night when off shift or were coming in on off days when they had time.  Because of that there were maybe only 4-5 people who were around full time to coordinate and also lend a hand in the actual cleaning process.  The Christian volunteers filled that gap and it made a huge difference for our town.  So many, many thanks to those folks.

I have had a few fun interactions with some of the volunteers, from Slyvan and the bike to watching as Pete Koski showed off his beer drinking glass. Which as you can imagine was not something an Amish kid most likely had been exposed to.  Later when Koski was relating that he had hand dug his basement I muttered that I could not relate to that at all....however all the Amish kids laughed and said they certainly could!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My "Disaster" Bike: Thomson Flood 2012

Sylvan and my Surly Pugsley

Nothing sad about riding a fat bike
Our town has been blessed with the arrival of about 20-30 Christian volunteers.  I am going to do a post specifically about them and their help eventually, but I thought I would tell this story on its own.

My vehicle of choice throughout the disaster has been my Pugsley.  It goes anywhere as many of you know and it has thus become the way through mud filled streets, over broken pavement, through swamped yards and to peoples houses.  I used it to ride quite literally through the water during the flood while I was photographing the dam.  In any case I am also using it to fly across town, so I can lend a hand at the various spots that I am needed.  The folks in town, most who have no idea what a fat bike is, call it my "Disaster Bike".

Sylvan was one of the Amish volunteers who arrived with the Christian Ministries.  I could see all day that he was eyeing up the Pug so finally I asked him if he wanted to ride it.  This kid had not spoken a word all day.  His face lightened  up immediately and he began talking right away.  He was thrilled.  Sylvan told me that at home he can only travel by horse and buggy or by bike and he had to travel a lot around his community.  He hopped on the bike and was like a kid in a candy shop.  His joy was evident and it was a really cool moment in an otherwise fairly somber day.

Story of a 2012 Thomson Flood Victim: Pete Koski

Petes house mid flood

Pete Koski chooses what to save while volunteers from Christian Ministry look on.  Pete hand dug this basement 30 years ago, through red clay and solid rock.

You know you have lived a good life when folks come from all over to lend a hand when your in trouble.  The Koski's have made a lot of good friends in their lives and that is paying off as they need a lot of help.

Going through belongings and what is worth saving and what should be tossed to the curb.

Petes Daredevil collection made the cut!

Koski meeting Yvonne Prettner Solon, Minnesota's Lt. Governor

State Senator Mary Murphy and Minnesota's Lt. Governor listen to a Pete Koski joke.

Despite his house being a total loss, Pete always has a sense of humor.  Here is showing his favorite beer glass (has its own working toilet on it) to an Amish Volunteer from Christian Ministries.  Note the water line to the left and below the cement truck.

The volunteers from Christian Ministries are invaluable.  Without them our town would be in even more trouble.  Here they clean out Koski's living room.
Pete tells it like it is
So when it all said and done the real work begins.  If you are like us and your house made it through with minor damage, then you have to look to your neighbors.  At least I do.  I cant walk or ride down the street and ignore the terrible loss all around me and I certainly cant just go on about my life while other people toil and work to get back up on their feet.  That said, while I lend my story telling skills I am also lending my back, my legs and my hands to whomever needs it.

Pete and his family need it and I have put a lot of time in with them (as have many others).  Pete reminds me very much of my family back in Winona.  Hard working, DIY, master of making anything out of nothing and happy with his life, his family and his history.  The Koski family has a terrible load to shoulder.  Not only have they been basically wiped out by the flood, they also have a daughter with a deadly form of cancer (they literally just held a benefit for her).  Despite this, the amount of humor, goodwill and can do attitude from these folks is overwhelming.  Here is the American spirit that built our country and it is here in force.

 If more of us were like Pete Koski, we would be a different nation that is for sure.  I was there when Pete came back to his home for the first time.  Total loss.  He said not a word, he just walked to the front of the house, picked up his fire number, grabbed a rock and slammed it back up right.  It was like MacArthur coming back to the Pacific.  There was no doubt of where to go from here, just recovery.  Since then we have cleaned out Pete's basement and his upper floor and are working to clear out all the wet belongings.  At one point we had the help of 6 or 8 Christian Ministry Volunteers.  Great  folks and hard workers.  We were in the basement, stooped over and digging out silt when I remarked about how this was certainly a Finnish basement and that a Norge like me was a bit too tall.  Pete smiled and said that he was too tired at the time to "DIG" it any deeper.  Now if you realized the rock, and clay that constitutes the ground here you would understand what an amazing thing it is that this man dug this hole (and a big one) with his hands, at night after working all day at the paper mill.  Pete has become the example of our towns destruction and its need and its toughness.  The press has come, state senators have come and just recently the Lt. Governor as well.  So far, as of now, the state has yet to declare our region a disaster area.  To me this speed is a tragedy, we need the assistance, we are watching people like Pete struggle and many others in this community and yet the State Legislature and the Governor have yet to even start the FEMA process.  Hurry up.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thomson, MN Water line Mission: Flood 2012

Yup, need a bigger culvert:  Highway 210 Bridge Carlton, MN

Main Waterline for Thomson, MN severed and flapping in the Louie.

Trail side companion

Temp sewer line being dragged across the river to Thomson via the Munger trail

The Rootbeer River 

If you paddle here you know how big the Louie is right now: Epic.
Getting around these days in this area is a real pain.  Either you cant get there because the road is no longer with us, or there is a check point that will not allow you to legally enter.

One of my big jobs with the City of Thomson is to act as photo documentarian.  I am busily gathering FEMA application photo's or giving shots to the media or politicians, including the Governer's office.  Today however, we realized we did not have a good shot of the severed city water line.  Thomson actually receives water from Carlton and the water line crosses with the St. Louis River via the 210 Bridge.  That of course was cut in half due to the high waters.  To get a shot of the water line I had to ride across Vermillion Street, cross via the overlook trails near the UMD Canoe and Kayak Center (the Munger is out between Thomson and the bike bridge).

I chose my Pugsley and was able to ride a lot of trail and then connect back to the Munger where I continued over the bridge to Carlton.  There I had to navigate a MN DNR Check point.  I then road back to the river via 210.  Once again I had to go through two Carlton Sheriff checkpoints to finally get the shot.  The trip was like an escape.  As I rode down the path I could almost make believe none of this ever happened.  That the swinging bridge still exists and that I can go for a road ride through the park.  That Pete Koski's house was not stove in and buried by silt and water.  The white throated sparrows were singing proud and nature was in abundance on the trail.  However once I hit Carlton the destruction was hard to ignore.  Workers were already working on temp sewer lines and possibly water lines that will use the Munger Trail to get to our town.

Thomson/Carlton MN Town Flood Meeting 2012

Thomson City Council

Plenty of questions

Full house at the Carlton High school: Carlton, MN

Some were frustrated 
Tonight we had the first community wide informational meeting on how to start the clean up process.  I have to hand it to Thomson and the Thomson City Council.  They are doing such a great and thankless job.  People in our town seem to really be pulling together.  Certainly there are a lot of folks who are not getting down and dirty and helping out, but there are a lot of folks who are just throwing down.  It is so inspiring and overwhelming at the same time....

Monday, June 25, 2012

On a positive note: The Shandro flick is in!

I am so stoked this came out as good as it did.  Wish I was not as hung over as I was in my interview, but that goes with the territory I guess.  Wow, better times, seems like Disney Land now...

Jay Cooke, Thomson MN Flood: Clean up begins

Tools of the job.  Rubber boots and chainsaws

Life begins to move on and the kids drive it forward

Pete Koski's rider shot into Jay Cooke State Park from a 1/4 mile away

Again, sorry for the lack of posts.  Life has been on fast forward since I was last able to gain internet access.  When I last posted we were waiting out the crest of the St.Louis River.  It took until Sat afternoon for the water to drop behind the dikes of the res.  Once it did it was a matter of less than an hour for the main flows through town to stop.  I paddled to our house at 6am and drove in at 1pm.  The river is still at record levels but I feel like we are well past the exposure we were dealing with earlier in the week.

It was such a bizarre existence from Tuesday until Sat.  My only tools for travel were my canoe and my bike.  On top of that I was constantly on the sharp end, or at least felt that way.  It was a adrenaline high for a week straight and I came to remember and realize that I operate at full capacity in that type of situation.  I have been in a few life threatening situations in my life and have had the same realization.  However, now after four days of living on that juice, the hangover has begun.  When the events are happening you are basically a spectator, once they stop the hard work of digging out begins and the grief and depression comes with it.

Marg and I came out unscathed.  It is unbelievable the bullet we dodged.  Because of that we both have been going full tilt trying to help our neighbors who were not so lucky.  I spent most of Sunday either at the city hall helping haul Red Cross supplies or with people at the homes digging for lost items and helping them dry stuff out.  To bring our community back to its state of operation we are all going to have to work really hard.  The FEMA process is complicated and time consuming and we have a volunteer government to make it happen.  Because of that I hope to lend a hand whenever and wherever possible.

We are now going to be living without water and sewer facilities.  Porta Potties have been set up in the town at intervals so we can use them and they are dropping off cases of bottled water to get us started.  We will be in this type of state for weeks if not longer until the water lines are re-built and the sewer lines are fixed.

I have met many of my neighbors and have made more friends than I have ever had in the community, I have also met some I dont care to meet again!  But all in all I am amazed and inspired by the people who live near me.  I watched as Pete Koski, perhaps the most devastated home owner in the town returned to his home.  It is just smashed.  The first thing he did was to walk up to his fire number sign that was laying in a mud puddle.  He picked it up, took a rock and hammered it firmly and proudly upright in front of his house.  There was no question of what to do or where to start, he just did it....

Thomson, MN Flood 2012: The politicians come in

Cravaack and Franken at the FEMA meeting. Carlton County Transportation Center Friday June 21st 2012
Basic outcome of meeting.  Cities and municipalities, document, document, document.  People impacted by waters?  Assume your on your own and document, document, document.

More Images of the Flood: Thomson, MN and Jay Cooke Area

Forebay Dam on Friday June 22nd 2012

Forebay dike looking west

Thomson Res dike on south side.  Saturday June 23rd 2012

The Mayor's house on Friday June 22nd 2012

Paddling out on Friday 2012 to go to the FEMA meeting

Friday, June 22, 2012

Thomson, MN: St. Louis River Flood 2012

Thomson, MN Vermillion Street extraction this is west of our house about a block.
The CFS spike.  we are just starting to see a leveling off as of today...three days after the event

The remains of Vermillion Street, Thomson MN
Neighbors across the street coming home for the first time.

Hwy 210 looking up to Vermillion Street Thomson, MN  The top of the street is the dike.

 Ken Jorgenson and Greg Williamson waiting for their riders on Dalles ave, Thomson MN.  Our front yard.

Remains of Forbay Canal.  Our backyard is near that dam at the end of the canal.
Zimny paddles by our front door

Boys and their toys

The pump that gave its life for us.  Changing this out mid flood is a good story in itself.

Mug in the back 40 walking towards the Forebay Dam

Coast guard extraction Vermillion Street, Thomson MN

 Welcome to Dalles Ave, Thomson MN

First floor, highest spot in the house
Our home, the canoe parking spot.  This is after the water receded.  It had reached nearly to the garage.

Mug watching the festvities

Free chopper rides
First off, thanks so much to all the people who have offered support and hope.  You folks are really helping us a lot.  Right now the situation is still tenuous.  Most folks in Duluth are cleaning up "after' the big storm.  For those of us who live on the St. Louis River, the storm has not yet ended.  So to those people, I say, please hang in there and good luck.  Especially those folks in Fond Du Lac as that is ultimately where all this water is heading.

A couple of things to note.  First off I believe the St. Louis River is the biggest watershed in the Lake Superior Basin, if not it is close.  The reason we live where we live is because of the amazing recreational opportunities that the river offers.  One of those being whitewater paddling.  The Scanlon to Thomson Run is considered high water at 5,000 CFS according to the MN DNR.  Most people are hitting it at around 1,000 during the summer.  Right now it is at 43,800.  It crested at over 44,000.  This is unprecedented and although the river has just started to crest, we may not see a significant drop in days.

Right now our house is surrounded on all sides by major flooding water courses.  On the east we have water flowing over the levy behind us and that water is basically head high and in the east side of the towns houses.  Behind us you have the Thomson, Res and the start of the Forebay Canal, completely overflowing.  To our west the natural river course swings by then circles under us to the south.  So right now you cant get to our home unless you paddle in.

Currently, even after a dramatic rise in water, which came up to the front of the house, we are dry.  It is a miracle.  But that does not mean this is a done deal.  Water is still flowing over the tops of the dikes by several inches.  Currently MN Power is holding back water, I am not sure why, but I assume to protect the even bigger population downstream in Fond Du Lac.  That said, this levy system was build in 1907.  It is old and it is stressed.  If these levys let go, then the town will be inundated with water and the damage we sustain will be extensive.  If you were to go to my house and see how close things really are you would be pretty stunned, pictures cant do it justice.  In other words right now we are in slow mo terror.  Sleeping is tough as you can imagine, the head games are pretty easy to get into.  What to haul out?  What to leave in?  Should we even be visiting the house?

I want to make sure and thank Mike Bushey and Matt Weik for all the help on Wed.  You guys saved us up to this point.  Bushey helped me pile loads of items from our basement upstairs and Matt helped me replace my sump pump after it seized up and failed. God rest its soul it did its work until that point.  We also need to thank Dave and Bobby Larson, who are out of town but let us use their house while they are away.  It is a mile from ours but up on a large hill.  We can vividly hear the roar of the flood from their front porch.  I also need to thank IMBA.  I have been out of touch but folks are understanding and have been insanely supportive, what a great place to work and what amazing people to work with.

Yesterday I spent the day shoring up defenses and looking at the overall situation.  It is grim.  People in my town are suffering.  The state park and the bike trails are destroyed.  As of yesterday there were still rescues and extractions going on.  I used all my local knowledge of trails and hideaways to get the shots I did and I was continually pulled from watching tragedy and then running headlong into the stunning beauty of why I live where I do.  Those realizations made me cry and I was working in an emotional state of seeing the wonder of where I live and its destruction all at the same time.  We also spent a lot of time hauling folks in and out who had not been at their houses yet.  We have canoes, and anybody who did was lending a hand.  Ken Jorgenson and Greg Willams were the town water taxi yesterday as they ferried folks in and out.

I dont have time to write this whole story so it will have to come in successive posts, which unfortunately has we dont have internet will be spread out over time.  Please keep in touch on Facebook and text and we will let you know once the all clear has actually been sounded........