MORA, MINN. – Jodi Bakke usually discourages her kids from playing in the street. But on Monday, the Mora mother of four brought her three youngest — Ole, Anja and Etta — down to the corner for a swim.
In the middle of an intersection.
“I think they could swim here all day,” Bakke said with a smile, watching her children splash and float in about 3 feet of water, where sidewalks, curbs and road stripes could be seen shimmering under the clear floodwater spilling over from a swollen Mora Lake.
“It’s crazy and fun!” Ole, 11, said before ducking under the surface.
Such is the upside of a severe summer rainfall.
So much rain — more than 7 inches — fell over Kanabec County in central Minnesota last Wednesday night that it raised the water line of Mora Lake about 4 feet and sent residents scrambling to sandbag properties.
According to the National Weather Service, such a downpour is a “500-year” event, meaning that in any given year, there is only a 1 in 500 chance of it happening.
On Monday, five days after the deluge, this city of 3,500 residents about 70 miles north of the Twin Cities was still soaked and soggy, and the sights and sounds of a flood were everywhere.
While the Bakke kids swam in the street, other youngsters rode bikes through the impromptu pond, flinging water high as they pedaled.
Down the block, giant industrial pumps hummed, trying to clear water from the streets surrounding the lake.
Earlier Monday, Gov. Mark Dayton toured the area and received a preliminary damage assessment from local officials. Fortunately, the news wasn’t too grim.
Many homes had water in basements, but overall damage in the city wasn’t severe. Better yet, no one was seriously injured in the heavy rain and flooding that followed, said Kanabec County Sheriff Brian Smith.
Smith said the damage to county buildings, roads and other infrastructure was about a half-million dollars. But that doesn’t include damage estimates for homes or businesses, or state and township roads and bridges.
The sheriff said some townships may face significant damage. Many gravel roads were damaged by flash flooding. Smith said he saw roads with gullies 12 feet wide and 8 feet deep.
“An event like this can bankrupt a township,” he said.
Smith said the soil in and around Mora and much of Kanabec County was already saturated from earlier rainstorms. The Snake River, which runs through town, crested at about 15 feet Sunday, well above its normal level of 3 feet, Smith added.
“The sponge was full,” he said. “And then you drop 8 to 10 inches on that ... it’s not good.”
On the corner where the Bakke kids swam, Cora Schindeldecker sat on her porch wearing a weary expression. A wall of sandbags ringed her home, where four pumps were at work in her basement.
“I was pretty nervous,” she said of her weekend vigil of keeping the floodwaters at bay.
Her brother, Jim Tatro of nearby Braham, brought the pumps after checking in with her Saturday morning.
“I called her to see how things were,” he said, “and all that came out of her mouth was, ‘It’s bad.’ ”
Across the lake, state Hwy. 65, a major north-south thoroughfare linking the Twin Cities to Minnesota’s lake country, was shut down for about a quarter-mile, with shin-deep water lapping over the road.
The water was deep enough that a half-dozen members of the Mora Mustangs high school hockey team took to kayaks and went paddling down the road.
“This is something fun for us to do,” shouted 15-year-old Parker Mitchell as he headed for a rope swing farther down the shore.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” said Michelle Pautzke, lying back in her kayak. “Just a wonderful day.”