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Duluth 8-year-old tells story of trip through culvert during flood

DULUTH, Minn. -- It all happened in less than 30 minutes. Kenny Markiewicz, 8, and his 10-year-old cousin, Emily Mullikin, were given permission to go outside about noon Wednesday in Bayview Heights near Proctor, Minn. The record-setting rain had...

DULUTH, Minn. -- It all happened in less than 30 minutes.

Kenny Markiewicz, 8, and his 10-year-old cousin, Emily Mullikin, were given permission to go outside about noon Wednesday in Bayview Heights near Proctor, Minn. The record-setting rain had subsided, and the kids went to splash in the puddles less than a half-block down the hill, said Kenny's mother, Amber Markiewicz.

But the water left by massive flooding had become a deep pool down the sloping Lawn Street.

Unknown to Kenny and his cousin, a culvert built into the side of the road and usually hidden by foliage was submerged. Kenny, playing in the water, was sucked into the culvert by the powerful force of the current.

"We heard Emily scream, and we were out the door and down the hill," Markiewicz said. "We called 911 and I jumped in the water. Looking around, you couldn't see anything. You couldn't tell there was a culvert."

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Markiewicz began to feel around beneath the water and discovered a hole. She could feel the force of the water around her, and it began to drag her in.

"I just knew," she said.

At that point, Kenny, who had entered a 2½-foot opening, was pushed through a culvert system underground for more than a third of a mile before being spit out in a wooded area next to the Zenith Terrace mobile home park. His journey, Kenny said Thursday, "was dark," and felt as if he traveled "100 miles."

Hearing his shouts, nearby resident Gordon Marshall found Kenny walking through the woods. Marshall, who said the boy was bloodied and "in a daze," took him in and called authorities.

When Kenny and his mother were reunited, she said, he told her: "I plugged my nose, I took a breath and I prayed."

Doctors told Markiewicz that Kenny's lungs are clear. He suffered some deep cuts, bruises and a concussion. He doesn't remember much of what happened, he said. Memory of it seemed to come to him in bits and pieces during a talk with visitors. When hearing a description of another water rescue in the flood's aftermath Wednesday, he said, "That's what I saw. Fast water. Overflowing."

For a while, Kenny said, he heard his mother's voice shouting into the culvert as he moved through it.

If the culvert is newer, said Duluth senior engineering specialist Bill Bergstrom, it has a smooth interior to allow water to flow quickly and to lessen the chance of debris clogging it. It did not have a grate over it. Many in the city do not, Bergstrom said. The general policy is not to have grates, he said, because they clog after debris gets caught in them and can cause flooding. If people with small children or animals live near a culvert and ask for a grate, the city will install one, he said.

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A city map shows a mostly straight shot down to the culvert's next opening, where Kenny was deposited, with two angled turns toward the end. It empties into an open creek.

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