So many lives turned upside down

As the governor toured the devastation and local officials tried to cope, residents were in shock over the magnitude of their losses.

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BRIAN PETERSON ¥ brianp@startribune.com Stockton, MN 8/20/2007 Flood The home of Roger and Bonnie Oldham in Stockton rested on the railroad tracks after an unbelievable night of flash flooding, Roger and Bonnie were on the roof of the house when it broke free of it's foundation and started heading down the Garvin Brook. (SEE STORY!) As the water levels receded Monday afternoon, residents of Stockton were faced with mud in their houses and yards. Many were busy cleaning out their homes after a flash flood along Garvin Brook left their homes and cars covered in mud.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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WINONA, MINN. - Their homes are battered and soggy, their possessions strewn topsy-turvy across the muddy landscape, their spirits at times defiant, resigned and stunned.

People across southeastern Minnesota are trying to make sense of the weekend flash flooding -- perhaps the largest in state history -- that blasted out roads and bridges, turned placid trout streams into murderous torrents and inundated entire communities.

At least six people died when a series of slow-moving storms dumped up to 18 inches of rain, more than a half year's average, on parts of the region.

Several thousand people have been driven from their homes, including more than half the 1,800 residents of Rushford, a town nestled in a valley and inundated by the flooding Root River and Rush Creek. In Winona County, officials estimated that 585 homes were affected, including nearly 300 that were destroyed or sustained major damage.

One man was still missing Monday night, his car lodged in rocks along a creek near Lewiston after floodwater apparently swept it off a bridge 100 feet upstream. Rescue workers today will resume their search for Jered Lorenz, 37, of Lewiston.

Nancy Lorenz said her son, a taxidermist, was an avid hunter and fisherman. She said he was driving home from a party in a nearby town and never made it back.

More rain, some possibly heavy, is likely over the area until the weekend, and perhaps again next week, the National Weather Service said.

State officials said it will be days before they have a damage estimate. Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared a state of emergency in six counties, and said he will ask for federal assistance.

President Bush is expected to be briefed on the flood when he comes to the Twin Cities today for a fundraiser for Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

A first look at the damage

As evacuation orders were lifted and many roads reopened, residents on Monday began getting their first look at what the water had wrought.

A group of local officials surveyed some of the worst areas west of La Crescent from a Blackhawk helicopter with the National Guard. Pawlenty took a driving tour with Houston County Sheriff Doug Ely.

At a public meeting Monday in Caledonia, Pawlenty told local officials that federal emergency funds likely will help repair bridges, roads and levees.

Nearly every low-lying road in Houston County has sections covered with mudslides, fallen trees and rock and gravel. Despite highway crews pushing mud off roads and piling fresh gravel along roadsides through the day, some county roads still were closed Monday night.

No one was allowed back into Rushford, in neighboring Fillmore County, although emergency crews took homeowners for quick visits to their homes if they needed medications. The town has no electricity or phones, and gas was shut off in some sections.

"It could easily take weeks before we evaluate all of the homes and figure out what's going to happen," said Jack O'Donnell, Fillmore County's chief deputy.

The power of nature

In Minnesota City, a town of 235 residents just north of Winona, residents began the agonizing process of returning to their homes to clean up and, in some cases, move out.

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