Minnesota Town Copes with Flood Damage Flash floods in Minnesota left 1,500 homes and many businesses under water last week. Six counties were declared federal disaster areas. In the small town of Rushford, flood victims face a grim aftermath.
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Minnesota Town Copes with Flood Damage

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Minnesota Town Copes with Flood Damage

Minnesota Town Copes with Flood Damage

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This is the time when many residents in Minnesota have to gut their homes. That's the first step toward recovery after last week's flash floods filled those homes with water.

Minnesota Public Radio's Sea Stachura reports on what's happening in the town of Rushford.

SEA STACHURA: When you drive into the valley of Rushford, a haze-like, white smoke hangs over the town. Officials say it's mist and dust and mold and who knows what else.

In a town of a thousand, 53 businesses and 109 homes were completely destroyed. City officials say another 100 or so have major damage that may cost too much to repair. Jerry Ryman(ph) is watching as a FEMA contractor silently inspects his home. For the first day in a week, sun is shining through two long windows that hug his fireplace. Just a few days ago, four feet of water filled this entire house. Ryman says a part of the house is now sinking.

Mr. JERRY RYMAN (Resident, Rushford): We're both 61 years old. And it's all gone, you know? So I'm going to have to start over again. There is no way I can ever get the lifestyle back that I had before. I know that.

STACHURA: The day of the flash floods, 10 inches of rain fell about an hour north of Rushford. Another five fell in Rushford. All that rain gathered up speed and coursed down the valley into town. People describe it as a wall of water. Water even bubbled up from the cracks on the cement. The Red Cross estimates 1,500 homes in Minnesota were affected by last week's floods. Like many people in southeastern Minnesota, Ryman didn't have flood insurance. He says he was told he couldn't get any. Today his wife, Lynn Ryman, and her neighbor Marjo Johnson(ph) lean into each other on the driveway. Ryman says she managed to save a trailer full of belongings.

Ms. LYNN RYMAN (Resident, Rushford): He's got tools in the shed that's questionable. But everything else, I wish we did just throw it out now. We saved another trailer load. But I said...

STACHURA: Did you get your lawnmower out? Oh, they...

Ms. RYMAN: ...think I'll throw them - make a bonfire.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STACHURA: Neither Ryman nor her neighbor has savings to help cover their losses. The maximum recovery grant FEMA could provide is about $28,000. A FEMA spokesman says that the last update, over 800 people in this six-county area registered for help. Ryman tells her neighbors she isn't putting much stock in FEMA's help.

Ms. RYMAN: I'm not hoping that I get anything because it's not going to happen, I don't think.


Ms. RYMAN: Yeah.

STACHURA: Really? Don't you think so?

Ryman goes back into her house. Marjo Johnson says she and her husband built the home, then sold it to the Rymans. Johnson says she, her husband and their cat are squatting at a low-income apartment building. They're sleeping on air mattresses in his office.

Ms. MARJO JOHNSON (Resident, Rushford): Oh, you know, we're healthy. We're all right. We're tough. We can work hard. We've done that all our lives. I talk big now. It's at dusk when I fall apart.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STACHURA: Public safety officials are advising everyone in Rushford to wear breathing masks. The fresh water system has been contaminated with E. Coli. And it may be a week before it's safe. The waste water system is still broken. School buses and police cars are out of commission.

City administrator Windy Block says he'll get reimbursed for a lot of the infrastructure damage. But the city will have to pay for it all upfront, and then cover the remainder. He says his town has some reserves, but not enough.

Mr. WINDY BLOCK (City Administrator, Rushford): It's like a business interruption thing. I mean, when your business gets interrupted, you have no income. And I know there's a lot of employers in town, some of which could not make payroll on Friday, that face the same situation. They've been out of business for a week and there's been no income. So now what do we use to pay people with?

STACHURA: For now, though, town residents are working to recover and clean up -hauling water heaters to the curb, shoveling mud from their basements, and comparing notes on the damage.

For NPR News, I'm Sea Stachura.

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