Feds measure flood damage to private propertyOfficials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Office of Disaster Assistance were joined by state and local authorities in some of the most heavily damaged homes in Carlton and St. Louis counties.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
THOMSON — With a federal disaster already declared for public roads and bridges, government officials fanned out Wednesday in Northland neighborhoods hit hardest by last month’s flood to see firsthand the damage done to private homes and businesses.
It is the first step in declaring a federal “individual assistance” declaration that would bring federal grants and loans to help eligible flood victims rebuild.
Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Office of Disaster Assistance were joined by state and local authorities in some of the most heavily damaged homes in Carlton and St. Louis counties. They’ll tour Aitkin and Pine counties and the Fond du Lac Reservation today.
“It’s door to door, neighborhood by neighborhood, checking out what kind of private property damage is out there,” said Dick Gifford, a FEMA spokesman. “Obviously, there’s a great need. But your governor has asked us to come in and measure that need to see if (federal) individual assistance is warranted.”
It could take several weeks for that declaration to be made through the governor’s office and FEMA. And then home and business owners would have to formally apply for the federal aid.
But even those who lost everything shouldn’t expect too much from the government, cautioned Julie Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Division of Homeland Security/Emergency Management.
“No one is going to be made whole by this. It’s just one piece of the recovery pie,” she said. “The rest is going to have to come from the community, from fundraisers and the United Way efforts and from local sources. And people are going to have to dig into their savings and borrow to rebuild in many cases.”
Whatever is available can’t some soon enough for Linda Johnson. She and her husband, Alan, live just a few feet away from the Thomson Reservoir that spilled over its banks early on June 20, wiping out dead-end Vermillion Road where they live and flooding not just their home but the thriving photography business they run in a converted garage.
The Johnsons tried to ride out the flood in their home but had to be helicoptered out when they feared the waters could take out their entire house. They lost their kitchen. Sheetrock has been ripped out. Insulation is gone. Their driveway washed away.
“You make do. You have to,” Johnson said. “But everything we’ve had to do we had to pay for out of our pocket. This has pretty much drained us dry.”
Johnson said most of their customers have been patient and are still coming to get graduation and engagement photos taken, even if they have to park a block away and scale huge chunks of washed-out asphalt and concrete to get there. But trying to rebuild will be tough while also trying to keep the business going.
Their first good news Wednesday, even before federal officials arrived, was a road crew starting to rebuild their street.
“I think it’s great they (FEMA) came here. I was hoping they would,” Johnson said. “Anything we could get would help. Everything is up in the air for us right now, and this is our livelihood. … We don’t want to be forgotten because we live at the end of the road.”
Bruce Peura, who lives across the street from the Johnsons, said his basement filled with water nearly to the ceiling. But he’s lucky, he noted, in that his house is salvageable, although it will take a lot of work and a lot of money to fix it. He, too, thanked FEMA officials for stopping.
“Just trying to replace all of the appliances at once, that’s a big investment,” Peura said. “And I still have to replace the furnace. I’m going to need that before winter, I guess.”
Authorities said up to $31,400 is available in FEMA grants, but quickly cautioned that few disaster victims ever get that much. The national average is about $3,000 per homeowner.
In addition, the Office of Disaster Assistance, a division of the Small Business Administration, makes low-interest loans available to homeowners and business owners — up to $200,000 per home and $2 million for a business.
Businesses also can apply for up to $2 million in loans for lost business in addition to flood damage, said Mike Peele of the SBA’s Atlanta office, who toured Thomson on Wednesday. But that aid has to be paid back.
Federal and state officials speculated that an individual assistance declaration for the region is likely but were unsure when that might come. The last time Minnesota received an individual assistance declaration was in 2009 in the wake of major flooding in western Minnesota.