State lends hand to storm-damaged areas
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota is trying to get federal assistance to recover from Thursday's deadly storms.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's emergency officials asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct a preliminary damage assessment, which could lead to federal aid in Faribault, Freeborn, Olmsted, Otter Tail, Polk, Steele and Wadena counties.
The FEMA assessment would determine whether the state could ask President Barack Obama to declare the storm-affected counties federal disaster areas. If that occurred, federal aid would be available to help pay for local and state costs associated with the storms.
Working with the federal government is one job of the Minnesota Emergency Operations Center, which is coordinating response to Thursday's tornado outbreak and providing services ranging from National Guard troops to help with insurance claims.
Pawlenty on Friday authorized sending 118 National Guard soldiers to help local law enforcement authorities in west-central and southern Minnesota hit by what state officials say were 39 tornadoes and 26 funnel clouds on Thursday.
Besides the tornadoes, the state Homeland Security Department said that 11 areas reported thunderstorm wind damage and hail caused damage in 69 areas.
The National Guard troops will provide security and man traffic checkpoints. Forty-three soldiers were assigned to Wadena County in west-central Minnesota and 75 to Steele and Freeborn counties in the southeast.
Homeland Security opened its Emergency Operations Center in St. Paul Friday morning to support local government response to the storm outbreak.
Among tasks facing the state operation is evaluating the need for temporary housing. It also will coordinate state agencies' help in removing debris.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said she had talked to Wadena and Albert Lea mayors Friday, as well as Pawlenty's office, and work remained to be done before anyone knows just how bad the damage is.
"It is unclear what will be needed," she said.
However, Kelliher, said that she is open to a special legislative session if one is needed to fund rebuilding work.
She made her remarks at a St. Paul event in which she received the Minnesota Building and Trades Council endorsement in her run for governor, and she said many union members could be put to work in rebuilding efforts.
One of the first agencies to announce its response to the storms was the Commerce Department, where Commissioner Glenn Wilson said he will send a team to Wadena on Tuesday.
The Commerce Department team will go door to door with information about how the department can assist storm victims.
"As we have following other storms, our Consumer Response Team will help citizens with the insurance process," Wilson said. "Many insurance companies are already working in Wadena and other areas of the state hit hard by Thursday's storms. We will be available to answer questions and provide information to help the claims process go smoothly."
People who do not receive a visit, or who no longer have a home, may get information at www.insurance.mn.gov.
Wilson suggested that those with storm-related property damage immediately contact their insurance agent or company.
He said damaged and undamaged property should be separated and pictures should be taken. Also, he said, lists of damaged property should be compiled, but damaged property should not be thrown away until insurance company representatives give the OK. Major repairs also should await insurance company approval, he added.
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Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.