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Governor tours storm-affected areas

MEEKER COUNTY--As Meeker County continues to clean up and assess the aftermath of Monday's storms, state officials made their way through the area to see the true scope of the damage. Gov. Mark Dayton stopped Wednesday in Litchfield and Watkins t...

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Gov. Mark Dayton hears stories Wednesday of those affected by Monday's storm in Litchfield. Brian Edwards / Tribune

MEEKER COUNTY-As Meeker County continues to clean up and assess the aftermath of Monday's storms, state officials made their way through the area to see the true scope of the damage.

Gov. Mark Dayton stopped Wednesday in Litchfield and Watkins to meet with city officials and citizens before touring the hardest hit areas in each city. State, county and city officials praised the quick response of emergency services, as well as citizen volunteers, while work begins to fix the damage that the storms caused.

"I'm so happy that no lives were lost, no one was seriously injured," Dayton said. "That's almost a miracle given the severity of the damage."

The governor commended city and county response multiple times throughout the day as he toured Meeker County, calling it the "best of Minnesota spirit."

At each stop, Dayton took time to talk to city leaders and those affected by the storms to assess what ways that the state could help. He said he doubted that the areas affected would qualify for federal emergency aid, but said it was probable that Meeker County would qualify for the state aid threshold - which is $41,000 in damage to public infrastructure - though he couldn't say for sure until the final estimates come in. The state would then pay for 75 percent of the costs, he said.

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And there should be plenty of money available: Dayton said there is about $19 million in available funds for these types of emergencies, even with the flooding that is happening in other parts of the state.

As the governor traveled throughout the area, he heard stories of generosity from community members who stepped up to help when their neighbors were in need.

Scott Marquardt, whose roof and garage were completely destroyed in the storm, said Litchfield Building Center called him about coming over to cover his roof to prevent further damage before he had even reached out to anyone about it. "Hundreds of people have offered their help."

As the car tour cruised through Watkins, it was obvious that there was much more work to be done to clean up and repair the city. Trees, debris and pieces of ripped apart homes were still in piles near the street. On the corner of Meeker Avenue and Third Street South, a sign read "Watkins Strong."

Tom Opatz, co-owner of Hilltop Health Care Center, said the northwest portion of the roof on the elderly care and assisted living facility in Watkins was hit by the storm and residents were forced out of the building Monday.

Nevertheless, all residents were back in the building Wednesday and the roof had already been repaired, he said.

Dayton said he plans to meet Friday with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt to talk about a special legislative session, but added that the meeting was already planned and was not in reaction to the storms that happened earlier in the week.

Related Topics: LITCHFIELDWATKINS
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