Minnesota towns cleaning up

Response still the focus; recovery meetings planned.

BY HEATHER MOYER | STOCKTON, Minn. | August 28, 2007

Cleanup from mid-August flooding is still the focus in southeastern Minnesota.
Credit: Michael Senn, National Weather Service

Emergency workers had to get around in boats after flooding inundated downtown Rushford.
Credit: Fillmore County Emergency Management

Community leaders were scheduled to meet Thursday in two southeastern Minnesota towns to discuss the long-term recovery from last week's devastating floods.

Disaster responders said the meetings in Winona and Rochester will allow for information to be shared.

"We're calling together community leaders, nonprofits, churches and others in order to give them a sense of what long-term recovery is," said the Rev. Heather E. Klason, disaster response and training coordinator for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Klason said for now, though, immediate response to and cleanup from the flooding was still the focus.

Fillmore, Houston, Olmsted, Steele, Wabasha and Winona counties received federal disaster declarations Aug. 23, allowing residents to apply for assistance. The state's preliminary damage estimates said flooding destroyed 267 homes and severely damaged another 197 in Fillmore County. In Winona County, flooding destroyed 32 homes and severely damaged 244.

In addition to those numbers, more than 590 homes across the six counties were affected. The flooding killed five people in Winona County and two in Houston County.

As residents and volunteers continued to shovel mud and debris from the hundreds of affected homes, Klason said mold was becoming a serious problem.

"It continues to stay damp here," she said. "We haven't gotten the heavy rains that have been forecast since the flood, but it really hasn't been drying weather."

Klason activated her conference's trained early response teams to clean out and sanitize homes in Stockton. While her teams were not yet taking volunteers who call in to help, she said that phase may be coming soon.

"We're going to work this way at least into the first week of September, then we'll see," she said.

Klason added that some areas were not ready for cleanup volunteers due to water contamination. She encouraged churches and the public to donate funds to help the long-term recovery and not to donate other items.

The Rev. Jim Peck, disaster response coordinator for the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC), was doing the same for UCC churches.

The only supplies Peck asked his churches to donate were items that make up health kits and flood buckets. Beyond that, it was identifying people who can come down later to volunteer. He said UCC churches in the flooded areas were undamaged.

Lutheran Disaster Response representatives also toured damaged areas, checking in on churches and families and assisting in the long-term recovery planning. They said they expected more volunteers will be needed soon to continue the cleanup phase.

Both Klason and Peck have been active in Minnesota Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster conference calls. Representatives continued to urge the public to not just show up in the affected areas to help, but rather to work with response organizations in order to be most helpful.

Nechama Jewish Disaster Response had volunteer teams in Stockton for much of last week and one team went to Rushford Sunday. Nechama director Seth Gardner estimated his teams worked on at least 13 homes, removing debris and mud from basements and first floors.

"Now we're looking for volunteers starting this Friday and lasting through the weekend," Gardner said.

Gardner and Klason said they were trying to bring attention to the small towns which were flooded but which have not received much attention.

The cleanup was a family affair in some towns, as Gardner's teams found themselves working with relatives of those affected.

"We definitely have a lot of families and neighbors helping each other," he said, adding that one couple he met had returned home early from their honeymoon in order to help their grandparents.

Emotions among residents ranged from stress to frustration, Gardner said, but some were starting to pull themselves together to look ahead.

"The communities are pretty close knit, I think they'll come through this OK," he said.

Peck said he has assured pastors in the affected areas of the same thing - this has happened before and there were people available to help.

"Part of our work up until now has been to calm people down a little," said Peck, pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Austin.

He has responded to two floods in Austin as pastor of the church.

"Folks get a little anxious if they don't know what's going to happen," Peck said. "We're telling people 'to focus on the cleanup and immediate relief for now. We'll come in and help you understand the next part of the process.'

"One of my messages to the clergy is that it might seem like chaos to you, but things are supposed to be happening this way," he said. "Give it a few days, things will be clearer."

Related Topics:

Churches respond to Father's Day flooding

UT city's water contaminated

Historic city flooded twice in 2 years

More links on Flooding


Related Links:

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ



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