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Small towns bear brunt of massive flooding in Minnesota

HOMSON (AP) -- Some of the most extensive damage from last month's flooding in northeastern Minnesota occurred in small towns downriver from the city of Duluth, where nearly 900 homes were damaged and businesses found themselves cut off.

Minnesota Public Radio News reported Tuesday that officials from Carlton County are estimating the damage in that county alone is more than $100 million, including about $80 million in damage to infrastructure.

"Every single city and small town has received some amount of damage, some to a pretty significant extent," said Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Generau.

The damage is spread from Thomson and Carlton to Barnum and Moose Lake.

In Thomson, the street leading into town is still dotted with portable toilets for people who lost sewer service in the flood. Around the corner, one street collapsed into a hole several feet deep -- and a business at the end of this street is cut off from the rest of the town.

"We are the only business in this little town of Thomson, so it really cuts us off from our customers," said Linda Johnson, business manager for her husband's studio, Alan Johnson Photography.

The couple's home and studio are on the shore of the Thomson Reservoir. When the reservoir overflowed three weeks ago, the couple stayed home but were evacuated by helicopter a day later.

Alan Johnson set up a makeshift studio in a Duluth hotel to shoot portraits of graduating seniors. Monday was the Johnsons' first day back in their own studio.

Linda Johnson said their children helped them rip out waterlogged floors and walls. But they don't have flood insurance, and their homeowner's policy won't cover any of the estimated $80,000 in damage.

"Basically we're on our own. We've been using out-of-pocket money. Because of all of this we are not doing real well financially," she said.

Carlton County officials estimate private property damages at nearly $22 million, but the cost to repair those homes and businesses will likely be double or triple that figure.

Moose Lake Flood Manager Tom Paull said the fire department pumped out at least 100 basements in his town alone.

"People lost everything that was in their basement. They lost their water heater, furnaces, washers, dryers, freezers, their electrical panels, their electrical service," Paull said.

Paull is worried that people outside the region may forget about the extent of the damage -- and the long road ahead.

"Help with money and funds is going to be very important to get people back to just a normal basis, a normal life," Paull said, choking up.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be in northeastern Minnesota on Wednesday to begin assessing damage to private property. The state can then request another federal disaster declaration for private property owners.

But if any assistance comes, it could be months away.

"It's a little tough when you have to try to make your living in a situation like this, and nobody seems to be able to do anything for us at this point," Linda Johnson said.