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$26M damage estimate to infrastructure in SE Minn. flooding

RUSHFORD, Minn. (AP) - This week's flooding in southeastern Minnesota caused an estimated $26 million in damage to public infrastructure, according to a preliminary assessment Friday from federal inspectors.

RUSHFORD, Minn. (AP) - This week's flooding in southeastern Minnesota caused an estimated $26 million in damage to public infrastructure, according to a preliminary assessment Friday from federal inspectors.

Ten teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency wrapped up their tour of the six counties affected by the flooding. Fillmore County was hardest hit in terms of public property, with an estimated $12 million loss.

The other estimates included Houston County, $6 million; Winona County, $2.3 million; Olmsted County, $1.5 million; Steele County, $400,000; and Wabasha County, $82,000.

FEMA didn't estimate the value of private property damaged in Sunday's flooding, but it did estimate the number of affected homes at 1,500. Of that number, 305 were destroyed and 478 had major damage.

An earlier estimate by the American Red Cross had put the number of affected homes much higher _ about 4,200. Michelle Fure, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, said the FEMA estimate is more accurate than the Red Cross's "windshield tour."


President Bush issued a disaster declaration Thursday for three of the counties _ Fillmore, Houston and Winona _ and state officials were pressing to extend it to the others.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator R. David Paulison were among a delegation of officials touring several cities in the region Friday, including hard-hit Rushton.

Mayor Les Ladewig said he had no doubt when the delegation asked if they would be welcome at a shelter that still houses some 30 people.

"These people are dying to hear from somebody, because every one of them in there thinks they're a forgotten bunch. They don't think anybody cares about them. They're wondering how they're going to survive, wondering how they're going to get money," he told Pawlenty and Paulison.

Ladewig said about half of Rushford's 760 homes were damaged, including 248 that were destroyed and 91 more with serious damage.

Residents are still being told not to drink the water after E. coli bacteria was found. Fillmore County officials said the Rushford water system was being flushed, but was still not safe for domestic use. They said running water or flushing toilets in private homes could introduce contaminants into the home's plumbing.

More than 100 people listened to Pawlenty, Paulison and Sen. Norm Coleman at a former automotive electronics factory that has been converted into a shelter and hub for distributing supplies. Pawlenty's frequent visits to this part of the state since the flooding began on Sunday appeared to have paid off _ residents gave him a strong round of applause before he said a word.

"We will do everything that needs to be done to make sure this community gets rebuilt," he told them.


Paulison said FEMA recovery centers would be set up in Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties, which received presidential disaster declarations on Thursday. Paulison said the centers would be set up over the weekend and should be running by early next week.

He also said up to $28,200 in financial help could be available, although that depends on the income of the person who needs help. FEMA officials have stressed that the aid isn't intended to cover every expense.

Terry Hubbard said it won't come close. He asked Paulison and Pawlenty what he should do if he is thinking about walking away from his house.

"$28,000 ain't going to cover a lot of damage on your house," he said to Pawlenty. "And a lot of people still owe $80,000 on their homes, or better. I'm one of them."

Pawlenty told him the money would be there to rebuild.

"You can get the FEMA help and you can get the additional state help. What you do beyond that is your choice," he said.

Hubbard said later that he had been barred from returning to his home for four days after the flood, and by then it had serious mold problems.

"$28,000 is not even going to cover my demolition. I'll tear everything out. I may offer it back to the bank," he said.


State Sen. Ann Lynch, a Democrat whose district includes the flood-damaged towns of Dover, Elgin and Eyota, said in a letter to Pawlenty that it was "very disappointing" that Wabasha and Olmsted counties weren't included in the initial declaration. She urged the governor to continue lobbying to expand it.

"We're going to continue to do damage assessments, and if they reach a certain threshhold, then we'll declare those also," Paulison said.

Later Friday, Pawlenty proposed a law requiring insurance companies doing business in Minnesota to tell customers they are eligible for flood insurance. Many people in the flood zone were unaware they could buy such insurance, he said.

Mark Kulda, a spokesman for the Insurance Federation of Minnesota said his group agrees that many people misunderstand what's required for flood insurance eligibility.

"We are totally 100 percent behind additional education to make sure consumers know all the options that are available to them," Mark Kulda said.


FEMA said individuals and business owners who sustained losses in Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties can begin applying for assistance on Friday by registering online at http://www.fema.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

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