Bush OKs aid for 13 Minnesota counties

June 14, 2002 at 7:26 PM
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ROSEAU, Minn., June 14 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush Friday declared 13 northwestern Minnesota counties a major disaster area because of damage from flooding and torrential rain earlier this week.

The declaration means the federal Emergency management Agency is authorized to bring several kinds of federal aid to the region, including temporary house trailers that Roseau officials say are desperately needed.

The declaration includes the counties of Becker, Beltrami, Clay, Kittson, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake and Roseau.

Roseau County residents, hundreds of whom are displaced from flooded homes, are immediately eligible for immediate federal aid including emergency disaster housing, grants and low-cost loans.

The other counties are eligible initially for just "hazard mitigation" funds, but that could change once damage is more closely assessed, said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who represents the area.

"The entire region has seen tremendous damage to homes, roads, land, and public infrastructure," Peterson said in a statement. "While important attention has been given to the devastation in Roseau and other towns we cannot forget that the flood did not stop at the city limits."

Residents of tiny Roseau, however, were still waiting late Friday for emergency trailers and temporary housing to arrive.

With 95 percent of the town's homes and businesses damaged by flooding, officials say a quick state and federal disaster response will determine the town's future.

"The community the way we know it is at stake," said Mayor Jeff Pelowski, who toured the flooding from the back of National Guard truck Thursday. "We need to give people some hope, some optimism that they have a reason to stay here."

About 16,000 people live in Roseau County near the Canadian border.

"We needed to save as much as we could so these towns would remain viable when the water was gone," said Peterson.

Homeowners who built sandbagged moats around their houses posted handmade "No Wake" and "Go Slow" signs in areas where knee to waist-deep water still covered much of the town. The rain-swollen Roseau River receded to 23 feet Friday, 7 feet above flood stage and a foot over the levee system. The National Weather Service said the water level was expected to remain high through the weekend.

Temporary sandbag and clay dikes continued to protect the school campus, a hospital, an evacuated nursing home and Polaris Industries, the largest employer with 1,800 workers.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune said federal officials estimated damage in Roseau could reach $20 million to $30 million.

More than half of the town's 2,700 residents fled the rising river and the American Red Cross set up shelters and feeding centers for displaced residents in Roseau and nearby Warroad. Nearly a foot of rain fell in three days and the town's main flood defense collapsed Tuesday night.

People in dozens of Indiana counties can commiserate with the plight of the Minnesota flood victims. On Wednesday, President Bush declared 28 Indiana counties hit by severe storms, tornados and flooding from April 28 to June 7 disaster areas.

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