One year after the 500-year stormWhen the heavy rain began to fall last year, few anticipated the resulting devastation. Just days after the June 19-20 storm and flooding, early reports of damage in the region were estimated to be in the $100 million range — approximately $7 million worth in Lake County. While no loss of life was reported, residents awoke to a startling landscape – gaping holes where driveways and roads had been and yards strewn with debris.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
When the heavy rain began to fall last year, few anticipated the resulting devastation. Just days after the June 19-20 storm and flooding, early reports of damage in the region were estimated to be in the $100 million range — approximately $7 million worth in Lake County. While no loss of life was reported, residents awoke to a startling landscape – gaping holes where driveways and roads had been and yards strewn with debris.
Whole trees had been washed down the Knife River, their trunks wedged between the bridge railings with roots reaching over the roadway like giant claws. Just a short distance upstream, the home of octogenarians, Joanne and Oden Aldreck, withstood the torrents, but not without rafter-height water filling the basement. The Lake County Search and Rescue, concerned for the safety of the couple, made its way by boat to the couple’s home at 3:30 that Wednesday morning and urged them to evacuate. Oden would have none of it.
“We stayed in the house,” recalled Joanne in an interview with the Lake County News-Chronicle Tuesday afternoon, “the water was almost up to the first floor,” but the night of the storm, she had taken some medication to help her sleep and her husband was reluctant to wake her, fearing that she’d be frightened by the commotion. The rescue workers trusted Oden’s judgment and, as the evacuation was not mandatory, let the couple stay in their home. Joanne reported that they are doing well a year later.
“We’ve had a lot of help. We got a new furnace, and it’s pretty much back to normal. People were so kind,” she said.
Nearby, the Knife River Community Center was deluged that night as well. Dirty water and thick muck destroyed the paneling, sheetrock, wiring, appliances and insulation at the building — the local polling place and the site of youth sports activities, AA meetings, pot lucks, yoga classes and Knife River Lutheran’s annual fishcake dinner.
“The water was 4-1/2 feet high inside the building, and the walkway outside the building floated down the river with the floodwater,” said Scott Jasperson, secretary of the Knife River Recreation Council last fall.
The council applied for state and federal funding to help with the cost of cleanup and repairs, estimated at $30,000, but the rec center was deemed ineligible for aid. Undaunted, neighbors rallied, applied for grants and raised funds — $27,088.01 in sum— and celebrated a grand re-opening with a pie social on October 29. The work was intensive, but the efforts of volunteers brought the center back to life, restoring it to its position as the mecca of the small community.
“The best part of all this was the way the community came together,” said Jacquilin Sebastian, president of the Knife River Recreation Council. “It was really encouraging, inspiring and energizing. People did everything they could to get this community back on its feet. That was the silver lining in the dark, dark cloud.”
Among officials, the consensus is that Lake County fared much better than most in the region.
“We got great help from our state representatives. FEMA had a very quick and good response team,” Lake County Commissioner Brad Jones said. “I think we’ve recovered quite well from the flood.”
“All in all we’re very lucky compared to St. Louis and Carlton counties where they had five to ten times more structural damage,” said Lake County Highway Engineer, Alan Goodman. “We’re certainly on the lower end of what they’re going through.”
The county has completed about $450,000 worth of smaller projects, but still has some bigger repairs to make near the Encampment and Stewart rivers, at a cost of around $1.2 million, Goodman said. The funds will come from the federal sources and state disaster bonds. Goodman credited the efforts of Lake County Emergency Management Coordinator, BJ Kohlstedt, for securing the necessary funding.
Kohlstedt also worked closely with directors of other county offices — Jennifer Thiemann, District Manager of the Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District and Michelle Backes –Fogelberg, Lake County Public Health Supervisor — to ensure that residents with the greatest need received help after FEMA denied individual funding. About 50 people came forward, Kohlstedt said.
“We took all the people who applied and divided them according to their needs” she said, with Backes-Fogelberg serving those with medical and emotional concerns, Thiemann fielding requests from people with erosion and watershed problems, and Kohlstedt addressing structural damage to homes and buildings. They used FEMA guidelines to help determine how to prioritize the residents’ needs and disburse available funding, which came from a range of sources—the bulk from private donations.
“To me that’s the big story in Lake County. We’re really very fortunate and grateful and want to acknowledge those who donated,” said Kohlstedt, people in Northern Lake County where they really sustained little damage wanted to help people in Knife River where there was a lot of damage. It goes to show what we already know; people in small towns and rural areas really do look after one another and care about each other.”