Gov. Mark Dayton is requesting $108 million in federal disaster aid for 13 northeast Minnesota counties and three tribal areas hit hard by last week's floods.
In a letter to the Obama administration Friday, the governor requested a federal disaster declaration for the counties of Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Crow Wing, Dakota, Goodhue, Kandiyohi, Lake, Meeker, Pine, Rice, Sibley and St. Louis, as well as the Fond du Lac Tribal Nation, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Grand Portage Tribal Nation.
The governor, who visited the stricken region Friday, plans to call a special session of the Legislature this summer, with the support of lawmakers from both parties, to coordinate state aid to the region.
Heavy rains last week triggered mudslides and floods, washing away roads and submerging homes, schools and businesses and damaging landmarks such as the Duluth Zoo.
"When a disaster like this occurs, we're not Republicans and we're not Democrats. We're all Minnesotans," Dayton told reporters at the Capitol Friday afternoon. "It's obviously a major catastrophe ... and there's no question there will be a special session. I talked with all the leaders [Thursday] and they all said yes, it's just a question of when."
Dayton's disaster request gives some idea of the sheer destructive power of the water that washed across the Arrowhead last week. A preliminary survey found $62 million in damage to roads and bridges alone and another $12 million in damage to the region's utilities, from downed power lines to flooded water treatment systems.
In some smaller rural communities, repairing a single flood-damaged culvert would wipe out entire municipal budgets without state and federal aid.
If the Obama administration approves the request, the federal government would cover 75 percent of the cleanup cost and Dayton said the state will pay the rest.
It will take a week or two for federal officials to respond. In a statement, U.S. Sen. Al Franken said he would urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expedite its decision: "The impact of the storm was significant, and the region needs federal support as soon as possible."
Dayton spoke of the scenes he saw in the devastated region: An elderly woman who lost everything to the flood; people working to save neighbors' homes from the flood when their own homes were already under water; convicts who volunteered to work on flood relief.
"I'm so impressed, the amount of recovery already, the amount of cleanup that has gone on. ... Really, it's extraordinary," he said.
The flood hit residential areas hardest, sparing popular tourist destinations such as Duluth's waterfront. But visitors are staying away, adding to the tourism-dependent region's woes. Local communities are urging Minnesotans to keep any plans they might have had to visit the region.
"It's not only open for business, it's lovely up there," said Dayton, noting that Duluth was basking in sunshine and 70-degree temperatures while the Twin Cities endured the 90s.
Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049