FEMA declares 3 more counties eligible for assistanceby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
Gov. Pawlenty says FEMA has now declared Olmsted, Steele and Wabasha counties eligible for additional federal assistance. FEMA officials say that could be expanded to a full disaster declaration later. But some residents are asking, what will FEMA do and when?
Rochester, Minn. — Paula Engel shares a worry with many people. Standing up in a large crowd at a Winona County public meeting, she says mold is growing in her home. She has no idea if her house is safe. Things aren't happening quickly enough.
"And the mold is going to keep growing," she says. "And we need to get people here now to get the levels tested. There are going to be pests and rodents that will start infiltrating our homes. So we need to call upon the state government to get these things resolved."
The state is calling on the federal government, and FEMA teams are now on the ground.
County and federal officials have repeatedly warned people to find clean dry places to sleep, and to watch out for mold.
But a lot of people in places like Rushford, Stockton and Minnesota City are sleeping in their homes. Some say the ground floor is dry or they're only in there at night. Others don't have homes. They're staying in hotel rooms courtesy of churches and the Salvation Army.
The Red Cross estimates 1,400 homes were affected by the floods.
FEMA Assessor Carlos Mitchell says inspectors have been out contacting people who have registered with FEMA.
"Once that inspection has taken place, it's downloaded back to what we call out national processing service center," Mitchell says. "They should receive a check within seven to 10 days of an inspection, sooner if they provide their account number."
People who've registered with FEMA at a disaster relief center or through the 800 number should talk with an inspector within a week.
Inspectors will be looking at the kinds of property damage and then decide what kind of assistance each renter, business owner or homeowner will receive. That can come in the form of direct help, loans and grants from FEMA, the Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration.
FEMA Administrator David Paulison and Gov. Pawlenty met with residents of Rushford. One woman was worried her trailer wouldn't be covered as a home lost in the flood. Paulison assured her it would, and that investigators would help her reach her home.
"You can't get into the park itself?" Paulison asked. "We'll find a way to get in there, we'll find a truck or something. But we'll get in there to do an assessment."
State officials say they've been very pleased with FEMA's response thus far. But others say FEMA was slow in arriving. FEMA assessment teams started their evaluations of Fillmore, Houston and Winona Counties almost four days after the flash floods.
In the duration, county and local officials have led the charge, and they'll continue to pay the bills of this disaster, at least initially.
Winona County Administrator Bob Reinert says FEMA will reimburse counties up to 75 percent of emergency costs, the state will pay for another 15 percent. But his county has to cover the costs initially.
"I think we have between $3-and-$4 million in infrastructure, roads, bridges and other things," he says. "I think we're going to spend in excess of $1 million in trying to take care of solid waste, debris and solid waste from houses that have been flooded."
Reinert says his county will also spend likely hundreds of thousands of dollars on labor for rescue and clean-up. FEMA will only cover overtime pay. Cities will pay for their own damages.
Goodview is struggling to drain a lake that doesn't have an outlet, causing a back-up in its sewer system.
Stockton has agreed to pay the inspection fees for homeowners who have to replace things like water heaters. For some the water heaters themselves may be paid for in part by FEMA.
While some worry about being forced into a FEMA trailer, officials are cautiously optimistic, at least that's how U.S. Rep. Tim Walz characterizes it. Walz says FEMA staff know people will be watching their response with a microscope.
- All Things Considered, 08/24/2007, 5:19 p.m.