* Polar bear and seals escape but recaptured
* Numerous roads, highways near Duluth impassable
* Weather service predicts more rain, possible flash floods
By David Bailey
June 20 Heavy rains pounded northern Minnesota
on Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of dozens of homes, causing
mudslides and sinkholes, and swamping a zoo where several
animals died and a polar bear briefly escaped, officials said.
The flooding in the Duluth area, a port on Lake Superior,
was the worst the city had seen in four decades, officials said.
"The last time there was something similar was in 1972,"
said Duluth police spokesman Jim Hansen.
The sheets of rain turned some hillside roads into rivers
that tore up roadways, popped off manhole covers and flooded the
Lake Superior Zoo, where several barnyard animals died,
including a donkey, sheep and goats.
"It's pretty devastating," said Kara Gilbert, an office
support specialist who was answering telephones at the zoo. "We
can all look out and see half of the zoo under water."
The zoo's polar bear, Berlin, exited her exhibit and was
tranquilized by the zoo's vet and quarantined, the zoo said. Two
seals also escaped their enclosures but were captured.
"A few of the animals got out of their enclosures, but they
are contained and doing fine," Gilbert said.
Five to 9 inches (12 to 23 cm) of rain fell overnight and
rain continued on Wednesday with a flash flood warning in effect
until 10:30 p.m. CDT (0 300 GMT) fo r parts of the region, the
National Weather Service said.
About 250 residents left 80 homes in Duluth's Fond du Lac
neighborhood, and 40 residents were cleared from the town of
Thomson, about 18 miles (2 9 km) so uthwest of Duluth. Two
campgrounds also were evacuated.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported as a result of
the heavy rains and flooding.
Numerous roads in Duluth and the surrounding area were under
water, and parts of area highways and Interstate 35 in Duluth
were impassable. Officials warned residents to stay off the
roads, and said the standing water was likely unsanitary.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Duluth Mayor Don Ness
declared emergencies and the Red Cross opened shelters. The
National Guard could be deployed if needed under Dayton's order,
and the governor planned to tour flooded areas on Thursday.
The general cargo terminal at the Port of Duluth-Superior
closed at midday on Wednesday due to concerns about the safety
of crews getting to and leaving the facility, said Adele Yorde,
public relations manager for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
"I've been in Duluth off and on for almost 40 years, and
I've never seen rain like this," Yorde said, adding that, "We're
used to snow and ice up here. Not this."
Port employees expect to return to work on Thursday, she
CHS Inc said it had suspended loading operations
at its Superior, Wisconsin, grain terminal, the largest at the
port, due to heavy rains and expected to resume on Thursday.
Canadian National Railway Company freight lines
across Minnesota and northern Wisconsin were shut due to the
rain and flooding, spokesman Patrick Waldron said.
The railway runs about 25 trains per day carrying freight
that includes grain and iron ore through those corridors and it
was sending crews out to check on the trains and for areas of
the tracks that may need repairs, Waldron said.
The Jay Cooke, Savanna Portage and Moose Lake state parks
were closed until further notice because of the flooding, the
state natural resources department said.
About 350 Minnesota Power customers were without power on
Wednesday because of flooding, and the company was passing the
increased water flows on the St. Louis River through its dams, a
process that can take several days, officials said.
"Our gates are wide open and passing the maximum amount of
water they can," said Bonnie Carlson, Minnesota Power's hydro
operations manager, who said there was no threat to the dams.