Teams of state and federal officials will fan out across tornado-racked areas of north Minneapolis on Thursday and Friday to estimate the twister's damage in dollars -- a preliminary step in a process that could lead to a federal disaster declaration and federal aid for rebuilding.

Two of the teams planned to determine whether damage Sunday's tornado did to public property such as streets, sidewalks or traffic lights tops the federal threshold of $6.4 million in uninsured losses.

Four others will estimate the damage to individual properties but may look closely at only one or two on a block if damage looks uniform, said Kris Eide, the state's emergency management director.

Officials said that if the city qualifies for a federal declaration, property owners first must apply for Small Business Administration loans. A grant of up to $29,600 is available for losses not covered by loans, officials said.

Council Member Don Samuels called on North Siders not to hold back on disclosing their losses. "This is not the time for that pride," he said.

A federal declaration also would reimburse 75 percent of eligible public costs, including repairs to infrastructure and costs of responding to the disaster. Officials declined to say how long a disaster decision might take.

With such help potentially weeks away, more than 1,200 people lined up Wednesday at Farview Park on the North Side for immediate assistance. Diapers and infant formula were particularly in demand.

So many people came that officials said they could help only those who arrived by 3 p.m.; latecomers were told to show up Thursday.

Although Hennepin County plans for emergencies, "we're never ready for this magnitude, so we try to improvise as best we can," said Paula Haywood, a county human services area manager.

"The feedback we've been getting is that people are really glad to have [the assistance center] back in the neighborhood," said park Superintendent Jayne Miller. Previously, residents had to go to the Convention Center downtown or the armory in northeast Minneapolis to seek help. City officials said 40 people spent Wednesday night in the Armory, down from 56 on Tuesday.

Their needs were triaged at Farview by more than 300 staff members and volunteers. People were directed to areas of the building where staff could watch their children while they waited. People got help with clothing, counseling, temporary shelter, access to a food shelf and applications for public assistance such as rent deposits or food stamps.

Leonard Clark, 25, was there with 2-year-old son Jayden. He'd collected several 24-packs of bottled water and toddler clothes. "I'm planning every day, day by day," he said. "We've been through the worst."

Shelter close to home

A building at North Commons Park was converted to a family drop-in shelter for Wednesday evening, and the Red Cross was preparing to move its shelter operations there from the armory, Miller said. Officials gradually have consolidated their primary facilities for serving residents closer to the damaged areas. The Farview center will continue as long as officials believe there's sufficient demand.

"People have been very respectful, very resilient. They've been patient," said Haywood, who spoke of her satisfaction in helping "the people I grew up with."

But some had needs that couldn't be met for now. Matthew Richardson, 70, said he stood in line for 3 1/2 hours only to be told he couldn't yet apply for money to fix the roof and damaged electrical service on the home he owns.

He said he's on federal disability assistance and there's no way he can afford thousands of dollars in repairs.

City inspectors plan to return next week to check more than 1,800 properties where this week they determined damage was severe enough to warrant the orders they issued for improvements.

City spokesman Matt Laible said inspectors hope for cooperation but can legally gain entry through an administrative process if they suspect significant electrical or mechanical system damage.

Tom Streitz, the city's top housing development official, estimated that 300 displaced people have used the temporary shelters at the armory, the Drake Hotel or the People Serving People family shelter.

Some of them went on to find housing on their own, in some cases by moving in with relatives or friends, Streitz said. The county is handling shelter arrangements; Streitz said the city is trying to arrange longer-term options.

"Affordable rental housing is very tight in this community," he said. He added that a list of mid- to long-term housing options is being compiled.

The nonprofit Project for Pride in Living has offered 10 such units, and the nonprofit developer Aeon is checking its stock, Streitz said.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438