After the storm: Recovery underway in Pine Islandby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Pine Island, Minn. — Thousands of residents across southern Minnesota spent Friday cleaning up after the record rain and flash flooding this week.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty activated the National Guard, and soldiers were at their posts in Owatonna before dawn this morning. The governor also visited with residents some of the worst hit areas, including the towns of Truman and Pine Island.
On the corner of Center and Main streets in downtown Pine Island is Greens Antiques -- a brickstone shop that's been in the Lerum family for 35 years. On Friday, Jeff Lerum and his brother Randy tried to salvage whatever pieces of furniture they could from the washed out store.
Water from the Zumbro River flooded Lerum's shop, and dozens of others along the town's main artery. By Friday morning, the water had receded and the sound of generators buzzed throughout the town, as residents cleaned out from the week's heavy rains.
Some areas of southern Minnesota saw 10 inches or so of flood water. Dozens of roads and culverts washed out. Sewer systems flooded. And the heavily-used Highway 52 remains closed north of Rochester.
Jeff Lerum said he's used to flooding in Pine Island, but this was the first time in at least 35 years it's been this bad.
"We sandbagged. Then we just stood around and watched the water come up, cause you can't stop water, you know. You can try. And we did a good job," he said.
Pawlenty said he will request federal disaster assistance, much like the state sought in the wake of the state's worst tornado outbreak back in June. This week's rains, while not deadly like those storms, covered a much larger part of the region.
"We're going to do everything we can to make sure these communities get recovered and rebuilt as quickly and as fully as absolutely possible," Pawlenty said.
After federal officials assess the damages, Pawlenty said he will call a special Legislative session, probably sometime in October. He wants lawmakers to take up the issue of the flood relief so that cities and towns get assistance quickly.
That's a big relief for Abraham Algadi, the city administrator in Pine Island. He said it's too early to determine the flood's total damage cost, but he said it's unprecedented in the city's recent history.
"This is a disaster beyond the capacities and the resources that we have as a city, and definitely beyond the capacity of individual homeowners and businesses," Algadi said.
Algadi said crews are working to get the town's water treatment facility back up and running. Officials had to shut down the plant's pumps and electric system as precaution because of the amount of water going through it. He said the water coming out of the plant is safe for residents to consume.
"Obviously, once we pump the water and other debris out were going to figure out the extent of the damage and begin to place a dollar value to all that damage," Algadi said.
Around town, both the football and baseball fields remain flooded as of Friday afternoon. And crews worked vigorously at the Pine Island School to pump water out of the basement. School officials estimate the damage in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. School will likely not reopen until late next week.
The National Weather Service said this storm dumped rainfall amounts that are in the top five ever recorded for Amboy, Winnebago, Waseca, Faribault, Blue Earth and Zumbrota.
On the south side of Pine Island, Amy Stevenson spent the day like much of the rest of the town -- tossing out soggy boxes and bedding and childrens' toys from her flooded basement.
"No sense in worrying about it," she said. It's all gone anyway. We were able to save a few things that we were able to carry out before it hit."
Stevenson will spend the night at a friend's house. Around the region, Red Cross shelters will remain open in Austin, Mazzepa, Owatonna, Pine Island and Rochester.
- All Things Considered, 09/24/2010, 4:45 p.m.