The drone of distant chain saws and the backup beeps of heavy equipment were common sounds all over Rock County and southwest Minnesota over the past few days as people dig out from fallen trees and branches.
An inch and a half of ice on Tuesday April 9, was followed by nearly 10 inches of heavy snow and topped with 40 mph winds.
These conditions were disastrous for trees and power lines, which bent and broke in communities all over the region.
Entire communities were without electricity from Tuesday night through Saturday night, and some towns, Hills and Steen, for example, had no landline telephone service or emergency communication.
The National Guard was activated in order to open the Armory in Luverne as a temporary shelter. Guardsmen were not authorized to help with residential tree cleanup, as was misreported by state media.
The Luverne Elementary School was also opened Wednesday as a temporary shelter, but Luverne’s power was restored, and no one showed up to use it.
The Tuff Home in Hills served as a temporary shelter for more than 30 area residents who were unable to find hotels or housing with electricity.
Downed utility poles, snapped like toothpicks under the weight of ice, could be seen on rural roadways all over Rock County and the region.
Countywide, about 150 poles were down or damaged in the storm (counting 90 Alliant Energy poles and another 60 Sioux Valley Energy).
That scenery was soon replaced by hundreds of utility workers with heavy equipment working around the clock to repair lines and restore power.
Trees broken and destroyed
The Spring Storm of 2013, however, will be most remembered for the toll on trees.
Thousands of trees of all species and sizes were decimated by the ice, snow and wind.
Hundreds will need to be removed entirely, and countless more will be trimmed and then assessed for discard or keep.
County Board Chair Ken Hoime officially declared Rock County a disaster area Wednesday morning, April 10, and later that afternoon Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton declared a state of disaster for southwest Minnesota.
The declarations were the first steps in applying for federal disaster aid to help cover the costs incurred by local governments for storm cleanup.
To aid in the process, the governor and a Congressional delegation toured Nobles and Rock counties in order to assist with the disaster aid application to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
(See the related story about the governor’s visit in this edition.)
How do we get disaster aid?
A meeting on Friday with affected Rock County communities provided local leaders the tools they’ll need to request federal dollars.
FEMA funds may be available to local government units for public costs incurred by the storm. It’s not available to private individuals, who may have insurance coverage for some personal losses.
Amy Card of Minnesota Homeland Security distributed Damage and Impact Assessment forms to mayors and council members and explained the process.
She told community leaders not to get hung up on specific dollar amounts.
“We just want ballpark estimates at this point,” Card said. “This is an initial damage assessment.”
If the application qualifies for federal assistance, FEMA will review the file for more specific cost information.
Card said public assistance for infrastructure damage and debris cleanup will make up the bulk of the storm costs. (See related story about debris cleanup)
She said communities need to think about costs they’ve incurred so far — renting and fueling generators, for example, putting up road barricades, sending out fire and emergency personnel — and document those costs.
She said a good way to estimate costs for a town’s total debris cleanup is to consider how many dump trucks it takes to clear five city blocks and then multiply that by the total number of city blocks.
“Remember these are ballpark estimates,” Card said. “Take a snapshot and multiply.”
Community leaders were also asked to consider the financial impact of the storm on their local economies.
For example, what impact did it have on local emergency responders when 911 didn’t work on telephone landlines in Hills? What costs were incurred by business and industries when they needed to be closed for days at a time? What were the financial ramifications of closing schools? What did working parents do about day care during that time?
Card said all these impacts are considered in an application for federal disaster aid.
Minnesota’s threshold is $7.2 million in uninsured losses for the multiple counties — in order to qualify for FEMA assistance.
Card said, “Don’t get hung up on these numbers,” because it doesn’t take long for damages and impacts to add up.
She reminded the two-dozen local public officials that FEMA assistance would be used to reimburse local governments for public costs incurred — not for private individual reimbursement.
Communities turned their estimates in to the county on Tuesday, and the county will forward the information to the state of Minnesota on Thursday of this week.