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Superheroes of the sewer rescue ducks after 13 young fall through manhole cover

Park Rapids Public Works employee Stephanie Paulson, in a manhole, sets a duckling in a plastic bucket after retrieving it from the storm sewer. Deb Rogers looks on. The rescued ducks waited anxiously.1 / 3
A bucket of ducklings rescued from a storm sewer awaits a tearful reunion with their mom. (Photos by Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 3
Jim Simpson cranes his head as close as possible to see if he can spot ducklings down the drain.3 / 3

Talk about lucky ducks!

Four Park Rapids city public works employees played a human version of "whack-a-mole" Wednesday morning when they responded to rescue 13 ducklings trapped in the dark underbelly of Main Avenue.

The four were popping their heads up and down out of manholes in the frantic search for the lost.

It all began after 7:30 a.m. when a group of students on their way to Park Avenue School of Cosmetology spotted a female mallard on the 300 block of Main honking in distress. They walked over to see what her problem was and tried to shoo her off the curb so she wouldn't get run over. She was hovering near a manhole cover.

They soon discovered the problem - her babies were trapped below ground. They could hear them through the grates.

Eleven tiny ducklings were on the northwest corner of the intersection. Miraculously, the students and school employees discovered the remaining two under the southwest corner, down in the storm drain, one long sewer pipe from their squealing siblings.

The students called for a very specialized team of first responders, the superheroes of the sewers.

Enter Jim Simpson, Mike Ridlon, Stephanie Paulson and Ron Leckner. They quickly took pickaxes and sledgehammers to the storm grates to pry them off and jumped down below, emerging with balls of cheeping fluff.

Two of the early rescued babies were reunited with their mother while students Kim McMahon and Sally Rendon kept the trio on the sidewalk. Once reunited, Mom Mallard was content to keep an anxious eye on the frenetic activity while the babies quacked about their big adventure. Rescued ducklings, one-by-one were placed into a plastic bucket.

But here's where the rescue went a bit awry. It was attracting a crowd; bystanders couldn't resist picking up and cuddling the babies, one of which may have injured his leg.

That made a head count a bit tricky - OK, we have seven ducks in the bucket, two by Mom, two being cuddled, now three, now four. Now one was lifted back down the sewer to cheep encouragement to lure out his cowering siblings. How many left to rescue?

Fear drove some duckies through the water pipes across the street.

"Tell them to stay put," suggested Simpson, who rescued the initial pair and then heard more squeaks coming his way.

Rescuers were given LED flashlights to aid the search. The employees had to open a hydrant to flush the last survivor out. Cosmetologist Deb Rogers used a stick to prod one fuzzy guy gently from a V-intersection of two sewer pipes.

Deb, Sally, Kim and the rest of the students had class, so they had to abandon the rescue; tints and perms awaiting them. They had obviously passed fuschia class with flying colors as they say, as many were sporting a hot pink streak in their hair.

Stephanie came over to let them know when all 13 were safely above ground.

The drama was over in an hour. But the mystery remains. How in the heck did all 13 get down there?

Did they engage in a risky game of follow the leader and fall through the grates? Did Mom hatch them down there? If so, how did she get up and down herself? Did she march them downtown, knowing it was a cool place for kids to hang out? It was a bit far from the river, so their dinky webbed feet must have been tired.

The ducks were placed in a box and the superheroes of the sewer released them by the Red Bridge, all 14.

"They all swam away, just fine," Stephanie said.