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Roseau needs more money for flood recovery
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Last fall, the Federal Emergency Management Agency turned a wheat field on the edge of town into a trailer park. It's temporary housing for about 50 families with nowhere else to go. (MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)
It's been seven months since the Roseau River overflowed it's banks. People in Roseau have been cleaning up ever since. The massive flood affected nearly every building in town. It caused nearly $100 million in damage.

Roseau, Minn. — A shortage of federal and state assistance is creating problems. Last week, 70 flood recovery workers lost their jobs when federal disaster funds dried up. Officials hired the workers back this week by diverting unused disaster funds from other counties.

Roseau got about $6.5 million in aid from the state. But city officials say they'll need millions more to continue the recovery. They say the stress and uncertainty are taking their toll on residents.

Last June, the basement of Moe Lutheran Church was full of water. It's dry now, but all the rooms have been gutted. Church services are still held in the sanctuary upstairs. But in recent days, Pastor John Martinson discovered a cracked chimney and more structural damage. The congregation decided they'll have to build a new church.

"Our work is ahead of us now, we have a lot to do. It's a challenge," said Martinson. "This has been the church most of the people here have known all their lifes. And basically, the building is gone."

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Image Ilene Johnson

Martinson belongs to a group called the Interfaith Coalition. It's been meeting every week since the flood to raise money to help families recover. The coalition also focuses on the emotional health of the community.

"Some are doing very, very well," Martinson said. "Some are getting impatient. I think some are very frustrated with how long things are taking, the paperwork piles that people have to go through. And some people don't want to talk about the flood anymore."

Martinson says many families are struggling. Some are living in temporary housing. Many didn't have enough insurance and can't afford necessary repairs to their homes. The Interfaith Coalition is providing mental health counselors to help people deal with the stress. But Martinson says social problems are mounting.

"We had one suicide this summer. That was a tough one," he said. "We're seeing an increase in alcoholism, chemical abuse. Some domestic abuse cases are increasing. And a lot of that has been due to frustration."

Last fall, the Federal Emergency Management Agency turned a wheat field on the edge of town into a trailer park. It's temporary housing for about 50 families with nowhere else to go.

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Image Roseau Mayor Jeff Pelowski

Ilene Johnson has lived with her family in one of the trailers since October. The Johnsons lost their home and most of their belongings to the flood. Ilene figures if they're lucky, their insurance might cover a down payment on a new home. She says their situation is sometimes depressing. But she gets strength from her eight-year-old son.

"My son reminds me, over and over, we still have each other," said Johnson. "We're looking at a house today, so he's all excited. He says, we're going to have a home, you know, because he knows this is only temporary... I mean, you do what you can. It's just not called home, you know? It's not your home."

Last year's flood created a critical housing shortage in Roseau. The city is working with federal and state agencies to develop a flood mitigation plan. It's likely a number of homes close to the river will be bought out and removed to make way for a levy system. Mayor Jeff Pelowski says many homeowners close to the river can't fix up their homes until they know what's going to happen.

"It's the million dollar question I get asked all the time, is 'how long is this going to take? Should I fix my house up if I own a house along the river? Am I a future buy-out?'" Pelowski said. "We don't know the answers to those questions at this time. It's frustrating for people, but that's the truth."

The city has other problems. There are still road and sewer repairs to be done. Businesses need more help. And Roseau has no money to repair or replace the seven city buildings that were substantially damaged. City officials say they need about $32 million dollars in financial help to satisfy unmet needs this year alone.

State lawmakers from the region admit the recovery process may be slowed by the state's looming financial difficulties. They're working on an aid package for Roseau and the rest of northwest Minnesota. A bill will likely be presented to the Legislature in a few weeks.

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