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ND confronts flood recovery

The flood disaster in northeastern North Dakota may go officially undeclared but damage has been devastating for some people.

BY SUSAN KIM | GRAFTON, N.D. | April 12, 2004

"I think the majority didn't have insurance."

—Bonnie Turner

The flood disaster in northeastern North Dakota may go officially undeclared but damage has been devastating for some people.

More than 200 homes in North Dakota have flood damage and that's in the Grafton area alone, said Bonnie Turner of Lutheran Disaster Response.

Grafton is along the Park River, and damage tallies could grow as assessments continue in the wake of flooding earlier this month, when four inches of rain fell in about 24 hours.

Federal Emergency Management Agency teams looked at damages but Turner said she felt the affected areas in northeastern North Dakota had "little to no chance of being declared" a federal disaster area.

Both local governmental and voluntary groups in the region are struggling to assess damages in what Turner called "a difficult disaster."

Damage is sporadic, she said, and widespread. "We're still in the assessment phase, though cleanup has begun in Grafton."

Preliminary damage estimates total more than $4.5 million from the three northeastern North Dakota counties Grand Forks, Pembina and Walsh hit hardest by flooding.

In Walsh County alone, preliminary estimates totaled nearly $2.4 million in damage.

These monetary totals include damage to city streets and other infrastructure.

Assessing residential damages is difficult, surprisingly, because of the positive characteristics of many people in North Dakota, explained Turner. "People in North Dakota can be very resilient and very independent. A lot of families are helping families."

That means many people in need won't necessarily come forward to ask for help until months from now, she said.

Voluntary organizations are trying to assess how much insurance coverage people had. "I think the majority didn't have insurance," Turner said.

The damage also varied from floodwater in basements to floodwater all the way up to the main floor of homes. At least some homes were contaminated by sewer backup.

A Church World Service Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison was working with Turner and with local clergy to assess long-term needs.

In addition to the communities damaged in and around Grafton, residents around Devils Lake in Ramsey County continue to watch the water level rise in what has been a disaster slowly unfolding for a decade. The lake could reach a peak height this summer.

Damaged farmsteads could also be potentially overlooked, Turner said. During the flooding, "it was like an ocean out there, and I know rural farmsteads have been impacted.

"For a lot of them it's not the first time. We definitely don't want to forget the rural folks. They are forgotten a lot of times.

"And they're very, very independent. It's great that they are but when they need help, they don't reach out."

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