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Floodwater recedes, problems just beginning in Austin area
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Floodwater is the only crop on many farm fields in the Hollandale - Geneva area of Minnesota, just north of Austin. This photograph was taken on Friday afternoon. (MPR Photo/Bob Collins)
Early estimates suggest roughly 300 homes in Austin were damaged by the high water in the floods this week and that figure is expected to grow. On Friday state lawmakers gathered to listen as locals asked questions and vented their frustrations. All involved agree that recovery will take time.

Austin, Minn. — A few days ago floodwaters swamped the bar Patricia Ball owns with her husband in downtown Austin. She says six feet of water ruined everything. Now the walls are coated with slime and giant beer coolers are tipped on their sides. Ball says this happened to the business during floods four years ago. Three days into this flood and Ball says she's exhausted.

"We were up all last night, no sleep, pumping up water and so obviously a little tired and angry that it keeps happening so often and you know you just get a little frustrated with everything," Ball said.

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Image The cleanup begins

Ball was among dozens of local residents who piled into the Austin library to hear lawmakers outline recovery plans. In the next few days Austin officials are expected to submit damage estimates to the state and from there the information will be forwarded onto the federal government.

Republican state Rep. Jeff Anderson, who organized the meeting, says he fully expects the president will declare Austin and its surrounding communities a federal disaster zone.

"Having lived in this city all of my life and seeing the floods we've had in the past and the help we've gotten from the federal government, I know we're going to get that federal disaster declaration. It's just that we have to go through the right hoops," he said.

Others share Anderson's hope for federal aid. Mickey Jorgenson, who serves on the Austin City Council, held a handful of notes gathered from the discussion. Anderson says it's time for the city get some permanent flood protection.

"They're coming more frequently. They're worse. I mean is it going to take knocking out this library next time. You know it was lapping at this library and its awful and its people and its just story after story and its just awful. I've never seen anything like it and it was quick; so quick that many people didn't have time to get anything out," Jorgenson said.

A few blocks away and piles of carpet and toys mix with other debris in front of homes. All of these items were ruined when the flood ripped down this street. Some estimate the water was moving at 40 miles an hour.

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Image Out with the damaged goods

Jammie Bauer had to throw away several of her daughters toys. She says she's glad she didn't lose more when her basement flooded. But Bauer she concedes she's frustrated.

"My whole basement, I had washer dryer videos dressers from my great grandmother. I had a half hour to get it upstairs that was it. If it wasn't for friends I would have lost at least $3,000 worth of stuff," Bauer said.

At the edge of a downtown intersection city crews work to begin to remove sandbags. And most of the stoplights around towns have been replaced with makeshift stop signs.

Across from the Salvation Army, an old movie theater is now the Austin Vineyard Church. It's wet inside, and noisy pumps suck water out of the main floor. Pastor Richard Chinader wears high boots and his glasses are speckled with paint. He says they got hit hard but they'll get through it.

"We've had a lot of volunteers come and help us and other churches come and help us and there are people we don't know coming everyday. It's awesome," he said.

Chinander says he'll hold Sunday services as usual. But he'll working until then to get the sanctuary ready.

Somewhat northwest of Austin, Gerald Edwards is calling it quits. This week's flooding has destroyed all of his potato and onion crops, and most of his carrots. So Edwards, 50, said he's getting out of the vegetable farming business that his grandfather started, and will now concentrate on corn and soybeans.

"It's kind of hard to be the one to pull the plug, but the reality is that I'm just not willing to risk it anymore," he said.

Edwards, who said he has survived four floods since 1991, said he had about 700 acres of potatoes, onions, and carrots in fields scattered in every direction from this town of 300.

While he didn't want to put a dollar figure on his losses, he said 70 percent of his fields are totally submerged, and the rest are so waterlogged that the vegetables will rot before they can be harvested.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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