Duluth Mayor Don Ness says he plans to declare a state of emergency because of serious flooding in his northeastern Minnesota city.

  • Ness tells The Associated Press he plans to issue the order later Tuesday morning. He says it will help communicate the severity of the problem to the public and start the process of obtaining federal disaster aid.

    The mayor says the city is encouraging people to stay home, both because of the amount of standing and rushing water from heavy rains overnight, and the difficulty in spotting hidden hazards. He says they're also discouraging anyone from traveling into the city and through the city, both for their personal safety and so that they stay out of the way of emergency and maintenance crews.

    More than five inches of rain in less than 24 hours caused the major flooding, according to city officials.

    Interstate 35 near Duluth has been closed because flood waters have made it impassable. Many roads in the city are also underwater, causing sink holes, mudslides and manhole covers to blow open, according to Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Erik Simonson. Portions of Highway 61 in the area are also closed because of flooding problems. Many homes in the city also have flooded basements. Authorities in Duluth are asking residents to remain at home and no travel is recommended at all, unless it is for emergency reasons only.

    "Road conditions are terrible from one end to the city to the other," Simonson told WCCO-TV Wednesday morning. "We've got sink holes, we've got mudslides and we have manhole covers that have been blown off. We've got areas that are four to five feet underwater right now. It's a mess."

    Several animals also escaped from their cages at the Lake Superior Zoo due to flooding. Simonson said the animals of greatest concern if they were free were bears, polar bears, lions and tigers. As of about 6:30 a.m., zoo officials said all big-game animals have been accounted for and a few small barnyard animals are unaccounted for. Zoo officials said there was no evidence that any animals left the property.

    Zoo officials reported that several barnyard animals have died in the flooding and a polar bear that escaped from its enclosure was tranquilized. Officials said two seals escaped their exhibit at about 3 a.m. after Kingsbury Creek, which runs through the exhibit overflowed the more than 10 foot wall that normally keeps the seals in. The seals were eventually recovered and brought back to the exhibit.

    Officials say animals including goats, sheep and Ashley the donkey have died. There has never been flooding of this magnitude, and zoo officials say other exhibits can't be accessed due to flooding.

    UW-Superior officials had planned to host orientation for incoming freshman on Wednesday, but all events have been canceled because the campus is flooded and has no power. The University of Minnesota-Duluth is also closed due to flooding, according to officials.

    Heavy rainfall has continued throughout the morning, only making conditions worse throughout the city. Homes have been evacuated in low-lying areas, and Duluth Police, Duluth Fire and officials with the city of Duluth are coordinating efforts where needed.

    The National Weather Service says flood warnings are in effect for St. Louis, Itasca, Aitkin, Cass, Cook Northern Lake, Pine, Crow Wing and Carlton Counties until noon.

    Officials say the Floodwood River was at 20 feet and rising as of 7 a.m. Wednesday. The river has reached its banks and is flooding as heavy rain continues to cause problems in the area.

    The St. Louis River near Scanlon has also risen more than seven feet since last night and is currently just above 13 feet. Crews are working to minimize the damage there, and the river is expected to rise to about 15.5 feet. Jay Cooke State Park has also been evacuated because of flooding.

    Officials in Carlton County are recommending no travel in the area unless it's absolutely necessary because of significant flooding in the area. Several roads are either under water or are nearly impassable.

    The Carlton County Sheriff's Office has recommended an evacuation for residents in the small town of Thomson. The area is near Highway 210 from Vermillion Street to Dallas Avenue. The sheriff's office said emergency crews are available to assist in evacuations.