Duluth flood updates: Low, Charlie Parr, & Trampled by Turtles
With the stark, grotesque, and unnerving images from Duluth's massive flood comes the worry about our upper Minnesota neighbors -- some of whom are musicians. As the devastation piled up Wednesday, Gimme Noise reached out to Low/Retribution Gospel Choir's Alan Sparhawk, Charlie Parr, and Trampled by Turtles' Dave Simonett to find out how they were faring in light of the biggest flood the area has seen in 40 years.
"It's really weird, man," Sparhawk says from his home in the Central Hillside neighborhood. "I always thought this town was kind of unfloodable. It's pretty steep hill down to the lake. It was pretty intense to put that much rain on the ground in that short of a time."
A rush of up to nine inches of water in the span of a few hours was enough to rip apart roads, cause sinkholes large enough to contain vehicles, rip houses from their foundations, and put a whole lot of property underwater. Governor Dayton issued an emergency executive order Wednesday declaring a state of emergency in the area.
"From what I've heard, the guys are a little wet but OK," says Simonett via text regarding his Duluth-based bandmates.
Sparhawk was driving back from a Retribution Gospel Choir show Tuesday at the Turf Club in St. Paul while the storm was raging. "My wife was giving me updates the whole evening -- how hard it was raining," he says. "On our way home, we hit it. It started raining about an hour south of Duluth, and going pretty hard. It kept raining and raining and raining"
Photo courtesy of Terri D Harings
He arrived home to clogged gutters that needed attention at 3 a.m., and a very wet basement -- which is his rehearsal space. A good portion of Wednesday was spent clearing out the carpets and gear in the space. "We're really lucky that we were on tour," he says. "If we hadn't been on tour, we would've lost a lot of priceless stuff, I think. Guitars and stuff like that, if it sits in water for hours, it's never the same."
A check in with some of the area venues yielded positive news, as well. Both Bayfront Festival Park -- hosting Wilco on July 1 -- and the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center both escaped without much damage.
Still, the pictures tell a different story, and Sparhawk knows that things could've been much worse than "an inch or two" of standing water and a couple washed out roads. "I remember going to Grand Forks ten or 12 years ago when the Red River flooded, and helped them clean up," he says. "Man, nothing compares to that stuff. It can completely destroy your house. Someone should call Charlie Parr and check, because I think that part of town actually got more of a standing water problem."
So we did. "When I woke up this morning, our street was just a river," Parr says. "The water was up to the hubs in my truck. It was crazy. I've never seen it like that before."
Parr has lived in Duluth for 11 years, and resides further to the Northeast in Lakeside. He was planning to spend Wednesday evening playing a show at the Fine Line with bike enthusiast Paul Doffing. "I couldn't find a way out of town, he says. "In West Duluth, they closed I-35 because it was flooded. West Duluth was having so many problems with sinkholes that you can't really get through over there. It's all washed out down by Carleton too. After about an hour in the truck, I couldn't find a way, so I just turned around and came back home."
As for his neighborhood, Parr feels lucky, and says far-worse devastation is nearby. He says chunks of roadway have washed down onto London Road next to Lake Superior. "We're not far from the Western," he says. "It's crazy down there. The roads on either side of us are blocked off because of the sinkholes. It's nuts."
Like Sparhawk, Parr ended up with some water in the basement, and got up at 4 a.m. on Wednesday to start some precautionary measures. "I got down there, and my feet squished into the rug," he recalls. So he got the rugs up and turned on fans to get some moisture away from his records and his son's Lego collection.
Parr hasn't lived in Duluth long enough to have experienced the flooding of four decades ago, but he did have experiences with high waters growing up in Austin, Minnesota. His sister's house was in the flood plain and was destroyed. "I was talking to my mother not more than a couple years ago," he recalls "She said, 'You guys are lucky, Duluth's on a hill, you'll never have that problem.' I talked to her earlier today, and told her I couldn't be in town because the roads were all washed away."
He wistfully recalls a letter he received in Wednesday's mail from the Lake Superior Zoo thanking him for a donation with money earmarked for the farm animals, all of whom died in the floods.
A seal escaped from the Lake Superior Zoo.
Moving ahead, the topic moves to the locals rallying for some benefit work to help those now desparately in need. "Oh yeah," Parr says resolutely. "That'll happen. That's one of the amazing things about this community up here. It's strong. They'll be pulling it together, and a lot of support for the folks here."
We will update this as we hear more from Duluth, but everyone in the community is in Gimme Noise's thoughts today.
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