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Flood victims know recovery can take time

DULUTH -- Be patient, be persistent, but don't be quiet about it.

That is what others who have experienced devastating flooding have learned during the recovery process.

"People could easily give up, they easily could," said Diane Patten of the struggles ahead for flood victims in Duluth. "We're fighters and survivors, but not everyone is."

Diane and Marv Patten own and operate Granite Greenhouse and Floral in Granite Falls. They had no expectations that their business and home-- miles away from the Minnesota River -- would be flooded back in April 1997.

But floodwaters followed an overflow channel and backed up at a bridge alongside their property.

Diane walked down the stairs on a Sunday morning to step right into the water gushing through the first floor of their home.

"It all came that quickly," she said.

Recovery for the Pattens and other flood victims has been anything but quick.

Myrna Flint, whose home in East Grand Forks, had to be demolished after the Red River flood of 1997, said it's important not to rush things.

"Don't make decisions too fast," said Flint, who found her upright piano overturned in the living room when she first returned to her home. "Just don't say we have to do something for the sake of doing it. Don't overwhelm yourself making decisions. Try to do it slow so you do what is best, not what you think is best at the moment."

The Pattens said they made the mistake of rushing to make their home livable again.

After moving back in to the house in January 1998, they realized the remodeling work they had done failed to eliminate the mold. They had to re-do all of that work.

And there is a lot of work involved, that can be taxing both physically and mentally.

Hundreds of residents of Minot, N.D., who were flooded by the Souris River a year ago are still not back in their homes.

Gene Sauer, 55, of Minot, said he's reached the point of "absolute mental exhaustion" during the past year. He wouldn't let his wife look at their destroyed home for the first two months after the flood.

"The initial shock of getting in your home and seeing it was just devastating," he said. "You just went numb, and then about two weeks later then it hit you. It started taking its full impact on you."

Minot is recovering from flooding while also dealing with an employment boom related to oil development.

Sauer said the price-gouging in the city is "through the roof."

"You stand there, and you're at a point of complete frustration and then they hit you with that large amount of money," he said. "It's evil, actually."

As one example, he said his insurance would cover up to $5,000 for electrical work on his house. The lowest estimate he received was $8,300.

Pat Svoboda, 57, of Grand Forks, N.D., recalls his wife often returning frustrated from meetings with agencies like the Small Business Administration or the Red Cross after the 1997 flood.

"Patience is key," he said. "A lot of times she would just come home shaking her head and I knew it wasn't going well."

A big decision facing Duluth residents will be whether the effort to rebuild will be worth it or even whether to stay in town. Both Minot and Grand Forks-East Grand Forks saw long-time residents decide it was time to go.

George Cariveau, 64, wasn't as hard hit as some Grand Forks residents, with just less than 2 feet of water in his basement. After some thought, he rebuilt the portions of his house destroyed by floodwaters.

"We were a little apprehensive, but I had family here and this is where I wanted to be" he said. "That kept us here. There were a lot of people that left town and I could see their point, too."

Like many in Duluth, the Pattens of Granite Falls had no flood insurance on their home or business. They took out a Small Business Administration loan, and a bank loan, and added debt to credit cards in the aftermath of the flooding.

Diane, who will soon turn 70, and Marv, 74, knew 15 years ago that any plans for retirement would have to wait. The financial setback was like starting all over, they said.

But the Pattens say they don't regret staying in Granite Falls. The greenhouse business they started in 1971 remains strong, they continue to enjoy the work, and their newly-rebuilt home is everything they could want.

Diane says their only regret is that they were too complacent or accepting of what came their way in the aftermath. "You shouldn't be afraid to speak up, you shouldn't sit back," Diane said.

The Svobodas, who found an unfamiliar dog house and picnic table in their driveway after the flood, had to be proactive during a government buy-out process where they felt the offers were less than the actual value of the home.

"The buyout was tricky," Svoboda said. "They kept low-balling us and we got three appraisals, just to prove the fact that our house was what we thought it was."

Flood recovery can also mean lessons in living without possessions and accepting help from others.

In October, Jacque Younger, 65, of Minot, and her husband Les moved into their FEMA trailer, where they continue to live with their dog and cat.

Most of their belongings are stored in assorted places but--after getting used to living without them for a year--she expects to sell some of them.

"I've learned a lot this past year about getting along with people and living in small spaces," Jacque Younger said.

Dan and Cindy Griffith of Minot say the stress of dealing with the Souris River flood is worse a year later than when the river forced more than 11,000 people to evacuate the city a year ago.

Cleaning out their flooded home, trying to find contractors, dealing with price-gouging, wondering if they will get a government buyout -- the "to do" list and the waiting has tested their resolve.

"I have realized through this that I have a backbone of steel, though," said Cindy Griffith said. "I have a toughness I never knew I had."

Svoboda said there was also a community determination and strength that formed in the aftermath of the Red River flood.

"They have to keep their heads up," he said of Duluth residents. "Every day it will get a little better. It's going to take back-breaking work, but it can be done."