Five years after he miraculously survived being swept into a stormwater drain pipe during the 2012 floods in Duluth, Kenith Markiewicz is alive and more than well, his mother, Amber, reported.
Her son plays football and is a Boy Scout, and though he doesn’t talk much about the day he nearly drowned in floodwaters, he’s retained a healthy caution around open bodies of water, Amber Markiewicz said.
“He still has a fear of water,” she said, speaking from their home in Louisiana. “If he can’t see through it, he’s not going into it.”
Record-setting rains on June 19 and 20 in 2012 caused some $100 million in damage to Duluth roads, parks, trails and bridges. Streets buckled. Cars were swallowed by sinkholes. The state Department of Natural Resources was forced to close Jay Cooke State Park indefinitely due to the flood damage. Floodwaters even overwhelmed the Lake Superior Zoo, drowning some animals and setting others free.
A photograph of Feisty the seal, who belly-flopped onto a nearby residential street as floodwaters receded, went viral on social media and made it clear that the storm was not at all normal.
Amber and Kenith, then 8, were visiting relatives in Duluth at the time, and after the rains stopped he went out to play in the neighborhood. A block from the home they were staying in, Kenith was playing with his 10-year-old cousin when he stepped into a pool of muddy brown water and disappeared.
Rainwater had overwhelmed a 24-inch culvert, and though the water looked calm on the surface, a powerful jet was streaming into the pipe opening and a network of stormwater drains. Kenith traveled six to eight blocks underground before he was dumped in a wooded area. A stranger, Gordon Marshall, found him there and called police.
Kenith survived with minor cuts and after a brief stay at the hospital, returned home. His story made headlines around the world, and he and his mother appeared on national television.
Today Kenith is a typical 13-year-old interested in sports and games. He was busy at a Boy Scouts meeting the day a reporter called, but his mother shared a quick update on his life: He loves science and math, has excelled in a special education class he takes as a high-functioning student with autism and is on the school honor roll. He recently won an award that gave him free admission for a year to the zoo and aquarium in New Orleans. He’s also now taller than his mother, she said.
Speaking once about his near-drowning, Kenith told his mother that he thought he saw other children in the water with him, and that they led him to the pipe opening.
“It gives me chills,” Amber said. They both found a renewed faith in God after the experience, she said. “We were both affected in a lot of ways. How can you not be? My son is the love of my life.”
She’s aware that she sometimes hovers a little too closely to Kenith. “My older children would get on to me,” said Amber, “saying ‘Mom, he’s not going to break!’ ”
They became close to Gordon Marshall in the years after he found Kenith wandering in the woods behind his house. It was Marshall who heard Kenith shouting for help and took him to safety. On birthdays and at Christmas, Marshall would send cards to Kenith and his mom.
They went back to visit Marshall once afterward, Amber said, and along with the local community in Duluth who helped them in the days after Kenith’s accident, Marshall was someone they were deeply grateful for.
He died of pancreatic cancer not long ago, and the loss has been keenly felt.
“We miss him terribly, because he gave so much,” said Amber.