FEMA begins to tally flooding damage
LUVERNE — Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Minnesota’s office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management were in Rock, Nobles and Jackson counties on Tuesday to conduct preliminary damage assessments for a region of the state damaged by flood waters in mid-June.
“We’re looking for publicly-owned infrastructure reports today,” Angela Brown, disaster recovery coordinator for Minnesota’s HSEM, told attendees at the Rock County meeting Tuesday morning 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.”
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 the Tuesday’s assessment was for HSEM and FEMA to compile a list of the damages 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 reported estimates of damage.
Rock County suffered significant damage from flooding after nearly two feet of rain fell in the county within a week’s span. By the end of the day Tuesday, Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre said FEMA’s estimate of damage was $5.1 million.
He told HSEM officials that an engineer was hired by the county 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 it to GPS to aid FEMA in the reporting process.
Working with FEMA and HSEM 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 damages 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.
“Because of the good work (by townships, cities and other entities), they can show the bills and the estimates and they know exactly what to provide to the FEMA inspectors,” Oldre said.
As agencies continue to compile their documentation, Oldre said crews have been busy working to repair the damages.
“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,” he added.
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 Rock County’s Vienna Township, Oldre said, a good relationship with a contractor is allowing for work to be done on a promise the bills will be paid when the money comes in.
Bob Lynn, HSEM Public Assistance crew leader, said that once a disaster declaration is made, townships, cities and counties will be asked to complete a request for public assistance.
In Jackson County, HSEM 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 about $353,500.
Broken out by entities, Jackson County infrastructure suffered the greatest damage at an estimated $160,000, followed by the city of Jackson at $51,000. Federated Rural Electric reported damages of about $50,000, he added.
“Once the (FEMA) team comes in, (the estimates) may go up or some of them may go down, based on what’s accepted,” Johnson said.
Much of the damage in Jackson County was due to creeks and waterways causing washouts and damage to roads. Johnson said there were massive amounts of debris in road ditches and county parks, as well as within the city of Jackson. Downed power lines also added to the expense.
“We have seven townships that will want to participate if (a disaster is) declared,” Johnson said, adding that townships suffered road and culvert damage due to washouts.
FEMA officials met in Nobles County Tuesday afternoon, where all of the townships, the county, Great River Energy and Nobles Cooperative Electric submitted preliminary damage estimates of more than $684,000. By the end of the day, FEMA’s estimate had dropped to $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 damages was to roads and bridges ($354,756 estimate) followed by debris clean-up.
Rock, Nobles and Jackson counties, as well as Renville County, were the first four counties of Minnesota to be visited by FEMA officials, who hope to complete their initial assessments here today. Egan said they will then move on to the remaining 45 Minnesota counties with reported damage due to June floods.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.