There's still hope for flood survivors
For some in Carlton County, this summer's flash flood still lingers. Some 10 inches of rain fell in two days, waters rose and washed away roads and bridges, filled basements and hockey shelters, seeped into school buildings and restaurants, and t...
For some in Carlton County, this summer's flash flood still lingers. Some 10 inches of rain fell in two days, waters rose and washed away roads and bridges, filled basements and hockey shelters, seeped into school buildings and restaurants, and then it went away, leaving millions of dollars in damages behind.
While the federal government came through with financial assistance for public infrastructure, local homeowners and businesses have had a harder time getting aid to repair damages wrought by the flood. Other non-profit agencies and the state of Minnesota have funds available, but there some people who are falling through the cracks.
"Two weeks ago we were still finding people that hadn't had their heat or electrical systems fixed [since the flood]," said Pastor Mike Stevens, who organized and led volunteer work crews almost daily for more than a month after the flood, sharing knowledge gained in previous disaster relief efforts in New Orleans and Galveston, among others. "Great work is being done, but there are still people with large needs that aren't connected with the system yet."
On the bright side, state officials gave Northlanders impacted by this summer's flooding an unexpected early Christmas present last Friday, when the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency extended the deadline to Jan. 31 to apply for assistance under the Quick Start Disaster Recovery Program.
The Quick Start program provides a no-interest loan of up to $40,000 for home repair as a result of the June flash floods - money that is forgiven if the owner remains in the home for 10 years.
"We are here for one reason only," said Mary Tingerthal, Commissioner of Minnesota Housing and one of three state commissioners who traveled to Carlton to discuss the Quick Start deadline extension in a press conference. "We know there are homeowners who did sustain damage to their homes and who have not stepped forward for help. This is a part of the state where you are very proud of your ability to be independent and really do things for yourselves and I think that's great. But in this case, if there's something that maybe didn't show up right away or maybe you have a basement that's crumbling or you're worried about something that showed up only after the frost came in, it's really important that you call one of our administrators."
Minnesota Housing has contracted with local administrators to work with residents to complete the Quick Start applications, which are simplified applications "with no fine print" promised Tingerthal.
Those living in Carlton County are encouraged to contact Lakes and Pines Community Action Council, 1700 Maple St. E, Mora, MN 55051; phone 800-832-6082 or 320-679-1800, ext. 119.
"Don't be afraid to call if you didn't apply for a [Small Business Administration] loan or if you're scared of debt," Tingerthal said. "These are forgivable loans. You don't have to worry you won't be able to repay it."
Tingerthal also encouraged people to help family, friends and neighbors who may have slipped through the cracks in the six months since the flooding.
"Maybe you're worried about a neighbor or you're in town visiting a relative for the holidays," she said. "If they're too proud to pick up the phone, you can help. I can't urge you enough. It's time to take action."
The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency reported earlier this month that only 234 households of the 2,000 homes significantly damaged by the June flood in Northeastern Minnesota were slated to receive state or federal financial assistance.
When Tingerthal announced the extension (which follows a previous application deadline extension of Jan. 4), the 20-some public officials and flood volunteers broke out in applause.
"That's huge," Stevens whispered when she announced the extension.
Although Stevens is no longer leading crews to rip out drywall from flooded basements, he remains involved in the flood relief efforts by serving on the "unmet needs" subcommittee for northern Carlton County.
This stage of flood relief is more complicated than "go in and help out" he said, but there are still a lot of people working hard to make things better.
"We've got money that was donated to the regional Flood Homes With Hope organization," Stevens said, noting the committee basically works as a "check and balance" between the 10 case managers hired to work with flood victims and the United Way, which is managing the Flood Homes With Hope donations and writing the checks to flood victims.
But people still have to make the call and ask for a flood relief case manager to visit them.
Carlton County residents can also contact the Flood Homes With Hope campaign and disaster case managers by calling 218-499-9480.
"We need to find resources for the hundreds of people who have fallen through the cracks of state and federal assistance," said Drew Digby, special projects and long term recovery manager for Carlton County, "- folks who missed the deadline for paperwork, renters who lost most or all of their possessions, folks for whom $40,000 won't be quite enough.
"The other thing we need to remember is much of the damage is no longer visible from the street - cracked foundations, mold growing in places you never thought it would grow" he added. "The incredible financial hardship caused by people who tried to do the right things and get their repairs done really quickly and now they're struggling to make their mortgage payments."
Digby asked people to remember the flood survivors over the holiday period and into the New Year.
"We still need donations; we still need volunteers: we still need lots and lots of things to make this happen," he said, noting that people can go online to floodhomeswithhope.org to find out more. "It's going to take a while, at least another year, probably two years."