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Mayor Oberloh: 'Worthington as we know it will never look like it was'

WORTHINGTON -- As southwest Minnesota cleans up after an ice and snow storm, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz are offering their support.

"What we're doing is we start putting all those things with our staff who have been through this before, of what will be necessary to advocate and what will be necessary if it gets to a point where FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) needs to be involved," Walz said via phone Thursday afternoon. "We're prepping all those things and having it all ready. That preliminary damage assessment is the trigger that puts things into place federally."

The city is hoping to qualify for a presidential disaster declaration to help offset the costs associated with this storm.

"Right now, the only thing I have for any assurance at all is Sen. Klobuchar and Gov. (Mark) Dayton both said they will do whatever they can to see that we get some assistance," Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh said. "Really, it goes back to what we were told (Wednesday). We're operating on a good-faith scenario that when the time comes and we have a final tally on what all the costs were, that we will have some kind of compensation for the overtime and added cost that we've had cleaning it up."

To qualify, the counties in southwest Minnesota must accumulate damage of more than $7 million.

"From what we've heard, I've talked with the mayor for quite a while (Wednesday) and it looks as though the region, and you look at it as a region, will be able to meet the $7.3 million threshold for a presidential disaster declaration for public assistance," Klobuchar said. "It's a state threshold for the region -- for Minnesota, its $7.26 million, but then each county has to meet a threshold. It sounds as though your county is meeting it."

Klobuchar and Dayton are planning to visit Nobles and Rock counties this weekend.

"I think it's always important, especially when we're dealing with FEMA, to be able to tell them on the ground what I see," Klobuchar said. "Often times it's where they say, 'Well, we don't know what this damage is.' I can directly talk to the FEMA director on what we see on the ground, that's what I've done. Just for that reason alone, it's worth it because they hear directly from a senator what they're seeing. I've done that in all the other cases."

Meanwhile, Walz and his staff have been keeping a close watch on the storm in his district.

"At this stage, for our office, this is where we wait and watch with state agencies on their damage assessments and seeing the point if they need federal help or what we need to do," Walz said. "These are a few important days in terms of the city making sure they're assessing what happened."

So far, Oberloh isn't sure about the cost, but knows it's pretty high.

"When we've heard from (Public Utilities Manager) Scott Hain that we went through three transport loads of diesel fuel (Wednesday) and we're scheduled to go through three more (Thursday), just the added cost of the diesel fuel alone would be staggering to anybody," Oberloh said. "Not to mention that we have city crews that have been out way more than their allotted eight-hour day. On top of that, then we get the snowfall so they're back out early the next day. Just about everything they are doing is on overtime hours."

As the clean-up efforts continue, Klobuchar stressed the importance of keeping everyone safe.

"The first immediate thing is to make sure we are saving lives, which I know you're doing," she said. "The second is for people who might be freezing and people without power or have some kind of medical emergency. The other is to assess these damages. You want to try to get as much federal money as you can. FEMA comes in and helps people clean up and help clean up with state, local and federal. I know the governor called up the National Guard. The last part of it is rebuilding."

A representative from Mankato, Walz knows the resilience of Minnesotans.

"I've seen southern Minnesota respond and it works," he said. "The system works. The state is great with this. The counties do a wonderful job and in the case of FEMA, we've had great success. We'll be ready to do the same thing.

"It's a Minnesota thing and you see it across the country -- communities pull together, they start to assess and they clean up," he continued. "The real thing is sticking with this for the long haul of the rebuilding. That's the role, in many cases, that we end up playing -- of helping be those facilitators or assisting folks as they get everything back in order."

According to Oberloh, the town may never be the same.

"As you stand back at the grade and take a look at Olson Park, it almost makes me sick to my stomach," he said. "The thing is, Worthington as we know it will never look like it was. When the snow is all gone and the frost is off the trees, and the trees are back with leaves on them, it's just going to look forever changed."

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.