Assessors tally flood damage to private property ahead of FEMA visit

Northland officials are scrambling to assess the damage floodwaters caused to private property as they prepare for another visit by representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday. That visit might open the tap for federal...

Cleaning up the damage in Barnum
Homeowner Tammy Turnbull (right) looks Monday at just one pile of debris volunteers with Samaritan's Purse pulled out of her flood-damaged home on Barnum's Main Street. Insurance has declared the house a 95 percent loss, Turnbull said. "We are so thankful for the help," she said. "I don't know what we would do without it." (Steve Kuchera /

Northland officials are scrambling to assess the damage floodwaters caused to private property as they prepare for another visit by representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday. That visit might open the tap for federal aid to flow to area property owners.

Carlton County released a preliminary summary of damage Monday, showing a private property loss of $19.6 million for residential properties, plus another $2.4 million loss for business damage.

Those losses reflect only the reduced property value of affected properties. Making repairs and replacing lost contents could easily cost property owners two to three times as much.

Carlton County

No Northland community sustained more water damage than Carlton County, where widespread flooding took a heavy toll.


"Carlton County has 24 townships, and reports so far show there has been damage in every single township in the county ... and substantial damage in all but two of those townships," County Coordinator Dennis Genereau said at a news conference Monday afternoon at the County Transportation Building. "Every single city has also received some amount of damage, some to a pretty significant extent."

The property damage tallied so far doesn't even include all the household appliances that were destroyed.

"Conservatively, we're estimating approximately 1,750 critical appliances such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, freezers and hot water heaters were destroyed," Genereau said.

"If we estimate the average value of those items to be about $500 -- with furnaces being considerably more -- that's a value loss of approximately $1 million."

Kyle Holmes, Carlton County's chief deputy assessor, said more than two dozen assessors from around the Midwest volunteered their services to help quantify the flood damage. The team effort documented more than 5,000 properties that sustained significant structural damage as a result of the floods.

Of those parcels, 64 residential and three business properties were deemed total losses, while 119 homes and 16 businesses had damage that sapped at least 50 percent of their value.


Relative to its neighbor to the south, Duluth fared comparatively well, said David Montgomery, the city's chief administrative officer. He said an initial review indicates that fewer than 20 homes in Duluth were destroyed by the flood.


The city is still putting together its final estimates of private property flood damage.

"We've already hit over 500 homes, and the rate of new calls has fallen off," Montgomery said.

He said Duluth still has more than 200 properties that assessors plan to inspect. Staff members will work evening hours this week to complete the assessments and accommodate the work schedules of many property owners who hold day jobs.

Anyone who sustained flood damage is encouraged to document it in writing and with pictures.

City Assessor Gregg Swartwoudt said staff members have gone door to door in neighborhoods where standing water was observed, but he acknowledged the city still has significant work to do before it has a handle on the scope of the damage to private property.

For owners of damaged properties to qualify for state tax rebates and credits, Duluth will probably need to show that at least 25 properties in the city sustained damage that reduced values by 50 percent or more. It's a threshold Montgomery said he is fairly confident the city will reach.

St. Louis County

Efforts also are under way to document flood damage in the rest of St. Louis County, where Mark Monacelli, the county's public records and property valuation director, said: "We were not nearly as hard hit as Carlton County and parts of the city of Duluth."


But Monacelli noted significant pockets of damage, including Brookston, Hunter Lake, Grand Lake and Prairie Lake.

While Monacelli said staff members are pushing to compile numbers by Wednesday, he did not have any preliminary private property damage estimates to share Monday.

All in all, Monacelli gives residents and responders high marks for cooperation.

"Considering the magnitude of this event and the number of agencies involved, I think we've done a wonderful job of pulling together and working to get to a better day," he said.

Lake County

In Lake County, the flood damage to private homes was even more modest.

B.J. Kohlstedt, Lake County's emergency management director, said fewer than 20 homes were significantly damaged, but more than 50 driveways and culverts providing access to private property were washed out.

The storm also caused significant erosion damage, and a number of septic systems were compromised or washed out.


While Kohlstedt said Lake County is documenting private property damage from the storm, she said no dollar estimate has yet been compiled.

Kohlstedt noted that relatively few Northland property owners carry flood insurance coverage, and federal aid could play an important role in easing the storm's blow if FEMA assistance is made available.

Many pieces

Even if FEMA aid is offered to flood victims, it probably will play only a part in helping people recover.

Montgomery noted that the maximum amount of aid offered to a property owner is usually $30,000 to $31,000.

The average amount of disaster aid provided to qualifying victims is typically about $3,000, he said.

Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said there is a cap to FEMA aid and the low-interest loans the administration sometimes offers.

"It's typically not a complete fix," he said.


It takes a cooperative approach to help people put their lives back together in the wake of a large-scale natural disaster, such as the one that just struck the Northland, Gordon said.

"State, federal and local authorities come together following a disaster like this to match up their resources and learn where gaps might exist," he said.

For example, Montgomery predicts some local flood victims will be hard-pressed to make ends meet and deal with the costs of replacing a damaged washer, dryer, water heater or furnace.

That's one of the reasons the city has teamed with other communities and the United Way of Greater Duluth to create the Twin Ports Region Flood Relief Fund. Organizers have set a goal of raising $1 million for the fund. Contributions may be mailed to M&I Banks in the Twin Ports and US Bank locations throughout the region.

For more information on how to access aid programs, people also may go to and .

To report damage to private property, including erosion, in the City of Duluth, call (218)730-5300 or fill out the form at .

Outside the City, but in St. Louis County, call (218)726-2304 (assessor's office).

In Carlton County call (218)384-9142 or fill out the form at


Businesses wishing to report damage should call (218)730-HELP(4357) and select option #5 or fill out the form at . Click on the "Northeast Minnesota Flooding" link and then the link "Reporting Damage"

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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