Life has taught me to expect the unexpected. Every week I’m in this job, that truth is reinforced. Storms arrive on their own timeline, often inconveniently. As a community we’ve lived through this before, and we know that natural disasters bring their share of very real challenges — along with the opportunity for people and neighbors to grow closer and for communities to be made stronger and more resilient.
Back in 2012, our community was flooded with raging streams, broken streets and countless stories of submerged basements. We came through it thanks to grit, a united community response, patience and coordinated partnerships.
Two weeks ago, parts of our city were tested again with a storm that affected the power of 40 percent of Duluth residents. The storm’s 100 mph winds permanently altered the landscapes of many neighborhoods by destroying thousands of trees and creating significant personal property damage. Unexpected change.
As we continue to recover and clean up from the storm, I simply cannot say enough about what it means to have the honor to live here, to be colleagues with incredibly dedicated city staff, and to be neighbors with all of you. In ways large and small, we solidified our commitment to one another. Through 12- or 16-hour workdays by our city staff (some of whom were among the very last to get power back themselves), homemade thank-you signs neighbors placed in front yards, the kindness of sharing freezers or extension cords, or the simple gesture of just checking in with one another, we demonstrated our dedication, kindness and fortitude.
It feels good to know that while we have each other, we are not alone. St. Louis County Public Health Nursing staff knocked on doors at senior high-rises, Minnesota Power activated its network to bring in more than 200 line workers from as far away as Missouri, and our governor and congressional delegation reached out immediately. Together, we invested in a recovery plan that operated nearly 24 hours a day for a week straight. Time and again were the stories of gratitude from our community and a willingness to be patient and dig deep to make sure everyone came through it intact. And we did.
Earning appreciation were several community partners, including the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, the Duluth Transit Authority, Damiano Center, Duluth YMCA, the Great Lakes Aquarium and businesses that did their part to provide comfort for residents during the heat wave and power outage. The Red Cross, Salvation Army and Head of the Lakes United Way 211 aligned to accept calls for help from neighbors and activate volunteers to meet needs.
The city continues to offer help with debris clearing. We are proud to provide this because it’s simply the right thing to do with this particular storm and the amount of debris it created. We with the city are as motivated as you are to get this collection completed, in part because the staff doing this long and arduous work are not able to do their normal, everyday tasks — such as street work. You can help by doing what you can on collection and debris drop-off and by limiting your items to what is from the storm.
Thank you for being an amazing community that believes in taking good care of each other. Thank you to the city staff members who quickly mobilized on many fronts to serve the public and ensure the health and safety of residents while forgoing storm recovery at their own homes.
The unexpected storm brought out our best as a community — but who is even remotely surprised by that? We are Duluth, and we’ve come to expect that from one another.
Written by Mayor Emily Larson as published in the Duluth News Tribune.