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Flood fight in Northeast Minnesota reaches critical levels as property owners fight to stay afloat

Published: May. 19, 2022 at 7:48 PM CDT
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LAKE KABETOGAMA, MN -- Recent heavy rainfall and melt-off has contributed to severe flooding across Northern Minnesota.

In the Rainy Lake basin, some lakes, such as Lake Kabetogama, have already surpassed the historic high water levels seen in 2014, and are still days away from cresting.

High water levels have begun to threaten homes, cabins and resorts around the lake.

Jennifer Gelo has owned the Sandy Point Resort and Lodge on Lake Kabetogama for nearly 26 years.

She recalls the flooding in 2014 as some of the worst she’d ever seen.

“We went through the 2014 flood, and that was very dramatic. This one is definitely higher than that,” said Gelo.

“We’re looking at our little successes and hanging on to those.”

As the water level continued to rise this year, Gelo quickly realized this could be the worst flooding she’s seen in the 26 years she’s owned the Sandy Point Lodge and Resort.

“This one has thrown us for a loop,” said Gelo.

As of Thursday, the resort’s parking lot, docks and lawn were underwater.

Rising water had also begun to threaten several cabins.

Gelo, her husband and several visitors to the resort piled up sandbags, in some places more than three feet high to keep the water from reaching their cabins and lodge.

Pumps also moved water from behind the sandbags back into the lake.

She said keeping the flood at bay has been tough, but they won’t give up on their resort.

“When it’s your livelihood, you live here you’ve put your heart into it. We seem to be getting up early, working late and we’ve got friends and family showing up so it’s a battle we’re willing to fight,” said Gelo.

Sandbagging efforts led by the county and carried out by local volunteers have made all the difference.

“It’s been a very different and much more positive community based effort this year than we experienced eight years ago,” she said.

John Stegmeier, a supervisor for Kabetogama Township, has been leading the charge to load and distribute sandbags to resorts around the lake, a process he believes wouldn’t be possible without hardworking volunteers.

“It’s been a community effort. People have showed up here eight, nine hours a day every day since we started bagging,” said Stegmeier.

Stegmeier said it’s been heartwarming to see the effort between neighbors to lend each other a helping hand.

“The whole community [has been] working together to get these bags up there and putting the bags out. A lot of the positioning has been done by the resort owners themselves,” he said.

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