FEMA begins to tally damage in southwestern Minn. counties
By Julie Buntjer
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management conducted meetings in Rock, Nobles and Jackson counties, the first in Minnesota to be visited by FEMA officials.
“We’re looking for publicly owned infrastructure reports today,” Angela Brown, disaster recovery coordinator for Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said at the Rock County meeting in Luverne.
“If you have any issues with homeowners who still need help, we can get people out of the VOAD (Volunteer Agencies Active in Disaster) side to help people out,” Brown said.
Addressing a room filled with city and township officials and representatives of the Buffalo Ridge Regional Rail Authority, electric utilities and cooperatives, HSEM engineering specialist Wayne Lamoreaux said the purpose of Tuesday’s assessment was for Homeland Security and Emergency Management and FEMA to compile a list of the damage to roads and bridges, where they are located and the estimated cost of repairs.
“If it’s a significant amount, we may want to go out and see it,” Lamoreaux said.
Later, he announced that officials would conduct on-site visits to the short-line railroad and various county sites, as those had the greatest damage estimates.
Rock County suffered the most damage from flooding after nearly 2 feet of rain fell in the county within a week. At the end of Tuesday, Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre said FEMA’s estimate of damage was $5.1 million.
He told Homeland Security and Emergency Management officials that the county hired an engineer to inspect every culvert over 24 inches in diameter, as well as every bridge. County staff also took photos of each bridge and culvert with damage and linked them to GPS to aid FEMA in the reporting process.
Working with FEMA and Homeland Security and Emergency Management is something Oldre has become all too familiar with. He said this is the fifth or sixth time federal officials have come to Rock County since the floods of 1993 to assess damage from natural disasters.
He asked township and city officials to document everything — from photos of the damage to written estimates and bills for the repairs, maps showing where the damage occurred and photos of the completed work.
As agencies continue to compile their documentation, Oldre said crews have been busy working to repair the damage.
“Many of the townships, the county and even the railroad have started doing repair work under emergency provisions,” he said. “Some were able to do permanent work right away. When you start fixing damage to critical infrastructure, time is of the essence.”
Rock County has four major roads to repair, and fixing that kind of damage can’t wait for federal money to come through. The same is true in townships, where funds are limited.
In Jackson County, Homeland Security and Emergency Management and FEMA officials also met with governmental agencies Tuesday morning. Jeff Johnson, Jackson County Emergency Management director, said the county’s preliminary damage estimate is $353,500.
Jackson County infrastructure sustained the greatest damage at an estimated $160,000, followed by the city of Jackson at $51,000. Federated Rural Electric reported damage of about $50,000, he added.
Much of the damage in Jackson County was due to creeks and waterways causing washouts and damage to roads. Johnson said massive amounts of debris were in road ditches and county parks, as well as within the city of Jackson. Downed power lines added to the expense.
FEMA officials met Tuesday afternoon in Nobles County, where all of the townships, the county, Great River Energy and Nobles Cooperative Electric submitted preliminary damage estimates of more than $650,345.
Rita Egan, public information officer for FEMA, said the estimates gathered Tuesday will be compiled with other counties at the state level, before advancing to the regional and federal headquarters.
“This is taxpayer money,” Egan said, stressing the importance of getting accurate damage information and estimates at the local level.
In Nobles County, the largest share of damage was to roads and bridges — an estimated $354,756 — followed by debris cleanup.
FEMA officials hope to head to Renville County today. Egan said they will then move on to the remaining 45 Minnesota counties with reported damage from June flooding.