Flood notes: State helps now and seeks money for later

State officials’ reaction to northeastern Minnesota floods is two-fold: provide immediate assistance and prepare groundwork for receiving federal funds.

State disaster officials flew over northeastern Minnesota Thursday, a day after surprise record-setting flooding, for an early damage assessment.

Director Kris Eide of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management said that next her agency will work with local and federal officials for a more detailed assessment. If the damage estimate tops $7.2 million statewide, including recent Goodhue, Rice and Dakota county floods, Gov. Mark Dayton will ask the federal government to declare a state of emergency to authorize recovery spending.

“I think $7.2 million comes up quicker than one would think,” Eide said, indicating a good chance of federal aid.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness says damage in his area could top $100 million.

Once a federal disaster is declared, money becomes available to repair public infrastructure such as roads.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., plans to visit the Duluth area Friday as Minnesota members of Congress work with federal officials to speed aid.

“I have been in close contact with Gov. Dayton, Mayor (Don) Ness and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and will be working to ensure that state and local officials have everything they need to begin the recovery process,” Klobuchar said.

When flooding began, Eide’s department began operating the state Emergency Management Center in St. Paul.

“We are just making sure the local governments that have been impacted get the resources and support they need,” Eide said, including providing items such as sandbags and electrical generators.

Air boats were sent to the northeast in case rescues are needed.

The EOC has been staffed by up to 80 people from state and federal government, plus the National Guard, FEMA and other groups.

Duluth remains ‘open’

A Duluth state senator wants Minnesotans to know Duluth remains open for business.

The major tourist area, Canal Park and the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, was little affected by flooding this week.

“Although the city has suffered damage, we are open for business,” said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said.  “Duluth will weather this storm, and part of that recovery is keeping our tourism industry thriving.”

Visit Duluth’s President Terry Mattson said he spoke with several hotel, restaurant and attraction managers that all said they are fully functioning.

“We encourage everyone to visit all summer long,” Mattson said.

Obama events delayed

Northeast Minnesota flooding forced the Obama campaign to postpone a swing through three communities.

While President Barack Obama was not scheduled to visit Duluth, Chisholm and Virginia, his campaign had planned a Thursday “Minnesota Made” tour featuring union leader Dave Foster. It now will be next Thursday, 10 a.m. at 210 W. Superior St., Duluth; and 307 first Street N., Virginia. The Chisholm time has not been set.

Foster will be joined by Minnesota Democratic politicians in the three communities to discuss how 750 steelworkers lost their jobs in 1993. The incident occurred when a steel firm went bankrupt after now-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s firm bought it.

Foster, a Minnesota native, was lead negotiator for the steelworkers union.

City convention condensed

The League of Minnesota Cities’ annual meeting at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center was delayed an hour by the flood Thursday after some pre-sessions were canceled Wednesday.

Up to 130 city officials did not show up at the convention, apparently because of the flood situation. About 450 officials had pre-registered.

A Duluth official planned to talk to those from other cities that have experienced floods to get ideas about how to proceed.

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