Duluth residents still in trouble, even with aid [UPDATED]Published 7:54am Monday, July 23, 2012 Updated 1:58pm Monday, July 23, 2012
By Dan Kraker
MPR News — 91.5 FM
DULUTH — When a creek overflowed near Faith Garramone’s house in west Duluth a month ago, it filled her basement with nearly four feet of muddy water. The water’s long gone now, but the damage remains.
“We need to replace our furnace, and that was quoted at $3,500, and we’ve already replaced our water heater. Had to buy a new washing machine. The foundation is dissolving,” she said. “It’s just a big mess.”
This week, Garramone showed her basement to a team of federal, state and local officials who toured the region for a week compiling an initial assessment of the damage to private homes and businesses.
The federal government has already declared the region a disaster area for flood-damaged public infrastructure like roads. Local officials say more than 1,700 homes in Duluth and Carlton County sustained damage. All told the estimated lost property value is around $30 million.
Another disaster declaration would provide some federal assistance to those homeowners, but that still likely won’t cover all their needs.
Garramone has fans constantly running to keep her basement dry. She told Marquita Hynes, a Federal Emergency Management Agency external affairs officer, that she’s spent weeks scrubbing mold off the concrete walls.
“Day after day I work, hauling everything out. I lost everything,” she said. “If we don’t get help we’re in big trouble.”
Garramone said they don’t have the resources to make all the needed repairs.
“With the foundation being in bad condition now, the home value has just bottomed right out,” she said. “How do you get a loan with that?”
In Duluth and surrounding areas, hundreds of home and business owners are in similar positions. The flooding destroyed more than 70 homes, mostly in small towns southwest of Duluth in Carlton County. But several hundred additional homes also suffered extensive property damage. And only about 100 homeowners in the entire region carried flood insurance to help pay for the needed repairs.
Duluth Fire Chief John Strongitharm has spent the past week guiding FEMA and state workers around the city visiting property owners.
“In Duluth we don’t have a lot of demolished homes, but we have a lot of them that have [damage], like they don’t have furnaces anymore,” he said. “In Minnesota, that’s a problem.”
FEMA assessors will provide the information they gather to Gov. Mark Dayton, who can then ask President Barack Obama to declare a disaster declaration for individual assistance. That would be on top of the declaration already made to help the region repair damaged public infrastructure.
But even if that’s granted, the maximum amount FEMA can provide any one property owner is $31,400 for a house that’s been completely destroyed.
“If you have a house that’s valued much more than that, that’s only a start at rebuilding,” said Paula Reed, president of the United Way of Greater Duluth. The United Way has helped organize a regional flood relief fund to help meet the needs of homeowners who need help rebuilding.
“Flooding is one of the most difficult things to recover from; it takes the longest time,” Reed said. “It’s going to probably be a matter of years.”
The goal is to raise $1 million by the end of July. At the time of writing, they’ve raised just under $254,000. It’s also possible the state could pitch in to help homeowners, but Reed said it will take a combination of help from private and public sources to help everyone in the region who needs assistance.
On July 2nd, nearly two weeks after the flood, resident LuAnne Olsen recounted the damage to her home.
“We ended up with 7 feet of water in our basement, our freezer, water tank, washer and dryer. We don’t know what we’re going to do, because we just don’t have the funds to fix it,” she said.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness and other leaders held a press conference at Olsen’s home to launch the regional flood relief fund.
Olsen said her situation has only gotten worse. The rear entrance to her basement has collapsed, so volunteer groups haven’t even been able to get inside to help.