Zumbro Falls residents allowed back in, wait for disaster declarationby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Zumbro Falls, Minn. — It's going to take months, perhaps years, for life to return to normal in several southeastern Minnesota cities hit by last week's heavy rains and floods.
On Monday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised a brief special session to deal with flood relief costs. Among the hardest hit towns are Zumbro Falls and Hammond, both just north of Rochester, and until today, residents have only been allowed to enter the mud-covered town to retrieve essentials.
Some residents are wondering if they should just walk away and rebuild somewhere else.
A canoe on the roof of Jon Bleed's two-story home is a sign of how serious the situation became last week in Zumbro Falls. Bleed lives on Main Street, where officials estimate the flood water reached 10 feet high. There's mud everywhere along the town's main artery -- from the sidewalks to a nearby playground and a flagpole.
"If they give me a chance to get out, I don't think I will rebuild," Bleed said. "I don't know. I really don't know. I don't know what's going to happen."
City officials will allow Bleed and other Zumbro Falls residents back into town Tuesday. Since last week's floods, only people wearing wristbands have been allowed past National Guard soldiers for a few hours to gather valuables.
The small town is nestled in a valley near the Zumbro River, and 60 of its 95 homes were lost to flood waters.
"I don't know if these towns will ever get over it," Bleed said. "Actually Hammond is where I grew up and that's devastated just as bad. The bar is under water. If you're out a bar, what's Hammond? So it's a son of a gun."
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency began assessing the damages around southeastern Minnesota on Monday afternoon. FEMA will continue individual city assessments throughout the week to check on damages as part of a possible federal disaster declaration.
Gov. Pawlenty will call the state Legislature to a special session sometime between Oct. 7 and 12. The session has to wait for a federal disaster declaration and damage estimates that will give the most accurate picture of how much money is needed.
That can't come soon enough for Zumbro Falls Mayor Al VanDeWalker.
On Monday, VanDeWalker stood on top of his truck and fielded questions from concerned residents.
"When you are allowed back in your house, the first thing we want you to do is to get in, start cleaning up," he told the crowd. "And I'm going to tell you again, document stuff. I know you all went in and took pictures. Do it again. Look again, see the stuff you might have missed. Keep track of everything."
VanDeWalker says the town, population 205, is in a flood plain, and he estimated between 35 percent and 40 percent of residents had purchased flood insurance from the federally-run insurance program.
His biggest concern now is rebuilding his town before the snow falls.
"Once they get to the initial cleanup and get the furniture out, then you're going to do the construction debris and start taking the sheet rock out and try to take it out," he said. "If I can get anybody in their home in two months, it'd be great. I mean, there's just so much work to do."
VanDeWalker says the town will only survive with state and federal aid. The city has about $100,000 in emergency reserve funds, he said, but that's not nearly enough to cover the damage to his town.
- Morning Edition, 09/28/2010, 7:20 a.m.