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Record floods hit MN

For the first time in the 40 years Carol Kraushaar has lived in Austin, Minn., floodwaters have invaded her home.

BY SUSAN KIM | AUSTIN, Minn. | September 22, 2004

"Be cautious if you hire someone to help with cleaning and repairing."

—Terri Smith

For the first time in the 40 years Carol Kraushaar has lived in Austin, Minn., floodwaters have invaded her home. She was one of more than 3,000 people impacted Sept. 14, when 11 inches of rain inundated the southern portion of the state.

Many people - like Kraushaar - had never been flooded.

"But people were wonderful," she said. "Volunteers moved everything up to the second level of my house and we didn't lose a thing."

And volunteers will be important in the weeks and months to come, said local pastors and faith-based response leaders alike.

Damage assessments show that flooding damaged at least 3,090 homes in southern Minnesota.

It surprised many residents, said the Rev. Steve DeFor at the Austin Church of Christ. "We had one in 1978 that they called the hundred-year flood," he said. "But this one was very quick and unexpected."

The sewers backed up, he said, leaving many people with contaminated homes and basements. "There are lots of ruined appliances - washers and dryers, water heaters," he said.

This week local health officials warned residents about the residual dangers of the flood, including contaminated wells and mold. People should stay out of the floodwater, officials urged, and if they do come into contact with it they should scrub with soap and fresh water.

State-level officials urged people to be careful when they hire contractors to help them. "Be cautious if you hire someone to help you with cleaning up and repairing. Know that they're reputable and qualified," advised Terri Smith, assistant director for the Minnesota Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

More than half the homes in Blooming Prairie were flood-damaged. In Steele County, where Blooming Prairie is located, 429 homes had some level of damage, with 407 in Blooming Prairie.

The Rev. Heidi Heimgartner, pastor at the First Lutheran Church in Blooming Prairie - a town of 2,000 people - said damage was severe for some people, but others have already recovered. "I checked in on some elderly folks, and this is a town where most people are related. They are really trying to take care of each other."

The First Lutheran Church in Albert Lea served as a shelter for four days.

Damage was found in Mower, Olmsted, Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Steele, Wabasha and Faribault counties.

Freeborn County experienced the greatest number of homes affected, with 787 having some level of damage, and 392 of them were in Albert Lea. In Mower County, 343 homes were damaged, with 306 of those in Austin.

Lutheran Social Services, Lutheran Disaster Response, American Baptist Convention, Nechama - a Jewish disaster relief group - and other national groups were working together to address any unmet needs.

Lutheran Social Services in partnership with Lutheran Disaster Response has opened two offices, one in Albert Lea and another in Austin. "We will be continuing to coordinate volunteers and we have coordinated more than 400 volunteers so far," said Melanie Davis, director of disaster services for Lutheran Social Services in Minnesota.

In Rochester, Minn., the Rev. John Steer reported teams from the First Baptist Church were ready to respond. Other churches of many denominations echoed that sentiment.

Smith said that, even if Minnesota's damage was being eclipsed by hurricane-related headlines, people there were still struggling to recover. "It feels small by comparison but it is having a large impact on these communities and on these individuals," she said. "It's not the higher chain headline but definitely a significant event for these areas."

Bishop Harold Usgaard of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America urged people to remember those affected - even though they are not in the news. "This is a time to pray for one another. The visible effects of water damage are not as traumatic as those of tornadoes or hurricanes," he said. "But they are just as long lasting. Others will not see from the outside what so many of our people are struggling with inside their homes. Please stay close in the coming days and weeks. Just because the news has moved on does not mean that the needs have disappeared."

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