From a flood to a trickle

There’s a sad reality to last year’s flooding in southeast Minnesota that killed seven people and left hundreds of others homeless, jobless, and, in some cases, penniless: You can’t recover from that kind of a disaster either quickly or painlessly.

On Tuesday at the Winona County Commissioners meeting, Kevin Kelleher, the flood coordinator for the Department of Employment and Economic Development, defended the state’s response to the floods. “Both the state and local governments have responded better and faster than before,” he said, according to the Winona Daily News, which also said he blamed “negative press” for much of the controversy surrounding two key programs for getting help to people.

Late last month, Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona, complained that many residents and businesses in the region have not seen any state aid.

Why the disconnect?

I checked in today with Nancy Beer of Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response in Rushford, one of the hardest hit communities in Fillmore County.

“We have people back in their homes,” she said. “Every day people get more hopeful, but it’s a tough time. We have people still living in FEMA trailers. They’re tired of living in apartments with relatives. I tell people we’re in the dark before the light, but we’re moving ahead.”

Residents in the region had to apply for a Small Business Administration loan to get flood relief. If they didn’t qualify for the loan, they’re eligible for money from a state fund approved by the Legislature during a special session last year. That money doesn’t have to be paid back.

Beers says the reason more people aren’t applying for the state money in Rushford is because they’re being approved for — and are receiving — the federal loans from the SBA. “It’s a credit to the character and kind of people here,” she said.

“Some people are going to have to take out loans,” she said. “We have to realize that the government is the government and they can do what they can, but the communities have to say, ‘how are we going to bridge that gap?'”

Beers, who is from Albert Lea, has been on the crisis team during two other floods, but says, “I’ve never experienced this many people with this great a loss.” But that, she says, doesn’t mean people aren’t getting help. “We have a young couple who just recently found some people to help rebuild their home. They got their Quick Start (state assistance) money and they didn’t have to go into any more debt. And, they just had a baby.”

Beers says the people who are having a difficult time are the ones who can’t come up with a plan for recovery. “We know people are still living in FEMA trailers, and some of them don’t know what they’re going to do. That’s the hardest thing. But they (the trailers) don’t last forever. You have to have a plan.”

Note: I’m interested in listening to your experiences of recovering from the floods in southeast Minnesota. If you’d like to tell your story, please contact me at 651.290.1414 or e-mail me at

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