MARSHALL - Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes admits the city was left scrambling in 1993 when water inundated Marshall following a trifecta of rainfall events on Mother's Day, Father's Day and the Fourth of July.
The Redwood River in Marshall rose to 17 feet that year - just about six feet higher than it got during the flood of 1957. Emergency levees were constructed, but it was too late. The floodgates were open.
Today, as Byrnes watches as the city of Duluth copes with what has been called its worst flood ever, he can sympathize with what city leaders there are up against and will have to deal with in the weeks and months ahead.
"What they're dealing with is much more extensive than anything we dealt with," Byrnes said. "This is historical proportions in terms of the magnitude of damage. And it's worth mentioning that it's not only Duluth that's been hit with this; half a dozen counties in that area are dealing with it. As water flows downstream more people are being impacted."
Some parts of Duluth received up to 10 inches of rain overnight Tuesday, triggering runoff that has caused the worst flooding in more than 100 years. And, as Byrnes said, it's not just Duluth. In the city of Moose Lake, some 40 miles south, a state of emergency was declared. Reports say that 30 percent of the city's homes had taken on water, and floodwaters cut off access to the city from nearly every direction. Moose Lake is partially evacuated, while the cities of Barnum and Thomson are completely evacuated, the Department of Public Safety said Friday and water-boiling orders are in effect in some cities. The Minnesota Department of Transportation said as many as eight major highways in the area are closed.
As Byrnes watches from afar, he thinks back to 1993 - his first year as mayor of Marshall. He remembers how flash floods can have such a powerful and immediate impact on a community, while the recovery from flood damage takes so long. He also thinks about emergency management plans, and he thinks about the people.
"In any community the most important thing is the people," he said. "There's a whole range of issues that people heave to deal with - the personal damage they've had and how do they recover from that. There's always some blaming - what could've been done, what should've been done. There's that whole range of human emotions that is naturally to be expected."
In dealing with personal reactions, Byrnes recalled one post-flood public meeting in particular that took place in Marshall. It was a meeting without an agenda, an opportunity for Marshall residents to vent, to share concerns and offer opinions in a most difficult time.
Because the flood of 1993 was fed by three separate major rainfall events, it almost became a step-by-step process of disbelief and concern that grew more with each storm. As the situation worsened, residents' perspective of the flooding changed.
"At first people were looking at, 'What's wrong with my house - is my home located in the wrong area, is my sump pump not working?'" Byrnes said. "Then the second one on Father's Day, it was, 'What's wrong with the community?' The third time, people were saying, 'this is something beyond this is the power of Mother Nature and beyond anyone's control we have to make the best of it.'"
Byrnes said the city of Marshall learned plenty from the flood of 1993, from developing major flood mitigation in and around the city, to developing and fine-tuning its emergency disaster plan.
"We've implemented that many times over the last 20 years, starting with the '93 flood," he said about the city's emergency disaster plan, "and most recently with the July 1, 2011, storm we had. The planning that goes into emergency management takes a lot of time, but it's so important when events like this do happen. It really does take an event like this to really focus on the investment of making those plans and all different types of infrastructure improvements."