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Flood cleanup begins in Roseau
By Tom Robertson
Minnesota Public Radio
June 17, 2002

People in Roseau near the Canadian border are beginning the process of cleaning up after the worst flood in that town's history. Water from the rain-swollen Roseau River receded over the weekend, after nearly a full week of devastation. City officials place early damage estimates at more than $120 million. Residents are discovering just how much they've lost.

cleaning up in Roseau
Nearly every home and building in Roseau was damaged by floodwaters last week. Now that the river has receded, residents have a huge job ahead of them, cleaning up the mess.
(MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)

Trucks and heavy equipment have begun hauling away huge clay dikes from Roseau streets. Garbage trucks are beginning to haul away tons of debris. City electric crews are going house to house to inspect for safety and restore power, where possible. Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman Dennis Smith says the amount of work to be done is overwhelming.

"(There's) silt, clay everywhere. It's hard to go anywhere and not see damage," says Smith. "You can see it in people's yards. You can find neighbors' belongings and barbeque pits from your neighbor, or from halfway across town. We're missing city dumpsters. We don't know where they've gone. Parts of houses are gone."

City officials had advised residents to stay away from their homes and businesses over the weekend. City engineer Brian Grund says it was an issue of safety and public health.

"We have some major infrastructure problems. Some of the streets are completely destroyed...I mean, we don't even have the sewer recovered yet. We're still direct discharging sewer into the river," says Grund.

Connie Erickson
Roseau resident Connie Erickson has no hot water, no phone service, and limited access to electricity. With the help of friends and co-workers, she managed to empty her basement and rip out the carpet.
(MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)

In fact, sewage mixed with the flood waters has raised health concerns. Officials are worried about the spread of disease.

The warnings didn't discourage many from getting started with cleanup. Downtown business owners quickly filled sidewalks with debris from their stores.

Sherry Losse owns a clothing store on Main Street. Losse and members of her family were busy Sunday ripping out saturated carpet and removing damaged merchandise from the store. Losse says she has no flood insurance.

"I think we're going to have a total loss on our clothes. We're taking them home and washing them, but the smell - it's just really ishy," she says.

Losse says she's one of the lucky ones. Her store had less than a foot of water inside, and there's no basement to worry about. She says emotionally, it doesn't make it any easier.

"It's really sad to come in here and see," says Losse. "I took video all week, and every time I look at it I cry and it's really sad. But we're very fortunate."

Cars in the mud
Cars stuck in the mud left over by the floodwaters.
(MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)

A few blocks away, on the east bank of the Roseau River, Connie Erickson assesses the damage to her basement.

"It's a big mess, that's what it is. Everything's covered in dirt and grime," she says.

Erickson has no hot water, no phone service, and limited access to electricity. With the help of friends and co-workers from Polaris Industries, she managed to pretty much empty the basement and rip out the carpet.

"The water - you can see where it was, right to there," she says, pointing to a mark on the wall that's above her head. "I wouldn't have wanted to come down here. It was like the Titanic, when the Titanic sank... It's still so surreal. You can't even believe that it's really happened. It's just been a blur this past week."

Floodwaters in Roseau receded quickly and many of the streets are drying out. The National Guard has left and traffic is flowing in and out of town. At a town meeting Sunday, residents got safety tips and information on how to apply for federal disaster aid.

Ed Leier is assistant director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's emergency management division. Leier says there's lots of work to be done in Roseau, but things could be worse. He says some important institutions remain intact, thanks to some major sandbagging efforts.

Utility truck
Many Roseau residents don't have electric or telephone service, so utility crews are working to restore power.
(MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)

"The hospital was saved, the school was saved, the water treatment facility was saved. And the economic anchor for this community, Polaris Industries. Those things were saved. That will help this community recover," says Leier.

Some parts of the town's recovery will take years. Department of Public Safety spokeman Dennis Smith says it will also be financially challenging, since most residents don't have flood insurance. Smith says the most important step this week is to make sure residents are aware of health and safety concerns.

"This is the first step on a very long road. It's going to be very trying on people. It's going to require patience and confidence and working together with others. This is the stuff that tests not only individuals, but whole communities," says Smith.

A flood recovery team consisting of the Army Corp of Engineers, the state departments of public safety and natural resources, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency met throughout the weekend to discuss the recovery effort.

U.S. senators Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton met with Polaris Industries officials Saturday to survey the damage. Polaris employs 1,800 people in Roseau. That facility is expected to resume limited operations this week.

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