SE Minnesota declared a disaster areaby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
The federal government has declared Winona, Fillmore and Houston counties disaster areas. The declaration releases the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin registering and helping residents and businesses for disaster relief. The agency will also help with public infrastructure projects like roads and sewers.
Stockton, Minn. — It's about to rain again as FEMA spokesperson Melynda Petrie looked out at a crowd of Stockton residents and reporters on Thursday. Flies buzzed around, a teenager leaned on her mother. The room smelled of mud and smoke and baked beans.
Petrie described the procedure for FEMA's recovery effort. She said individual assistance means homeowners, renters and small business owners. To get started with FEMA assistance, people need to register with FEMA. They can do it by calling 1-800-621-FEMA.
"I know a lot of you have no phone contact. And that's where the disaster recovery centers come in," she said. "There will be a toll-free number. For those of you who by some miracle still have some sort of Internet access and you will, there will be people ready to take your information and go from there."
Homeowners can receive up to $28,200 through FEMA's individual assistance. Assistance for individuals includes rental payments, grants for medical and transportation needs, unemployment, low-interest loans to cover home damages not covered by insurance. Small business loans, loans for farmers and ranchers to cover production loss, and grief counseling.
The list goes on. Just like the piles of things along Stockton's streets.
Every home in Stockton bears a large 'X.' Bonnie Oldham's house has a red 'X,' which is classified as unsafe. You can't see the house from her yard. The floodwaters carried the building to the train tracks, and it's still there.
Oldham told a neighbor the story. She said she, her husband, Roger, and her mother climbed to the roof when the flood waters reached about three feet. Oldham said her husband heard the crack of the foundation, and then the house skidded down the culvert and into a tree.
"Then we hit Rich Cook's garage. But, you know, we're lucky we did because otherwise we would have hit that trestle. You really picked up speed. Up, down. And then, all of a sudden she just dead stopped. And Roger said, 'don't move,'" she said.
Oldham said she wrapped her sick husband and mother up in blankets and kept them awake from 2 until 5 a.m.
"I said, 'Roger, you gotta wake up.' I say, 'we're gonna sing, we're gonna sing.' The only song I could think of was 'Row row row your boat.'"
Oldham said she lost everything. Her husband had lived in that ranch house for close to 40 years. Their house wasn't in the flood plain. She said she couldn't get flood insurance.
"We had full coverage insurance," she said. "But they offered us a check for $500 yesterday for everything. I said, 'you can keep your check."
Oldham and her husband plan to apply for help from FEMA, but officials aren't saying when aid packages will be distributed.
Buddy Westerberg lives just around the block from the Oldhams. He was helping a neighbor install a water heater. Westerberg is dubious of FEMA's individual assistance.
"If they give us a low-interest loan, how do we pay it back? We're trying to pay our mortgages now, with the way the community is now or the environment is now. Things aren't that good," he said.
Some people say things will get worse in Stockton. Some residents say the town's only gas station was so flooded it likely won't reopen. A few people have decided they're leaving, and a few more say they're close to it.