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Gov. Dayton Visits International Falls as Waters Continue to Rise

Updated: 06/17/2014 11:22 PM
Created: 06/17/2014 2:21 PM WDIO.com

Flood waters continued to plague the communities surrounding International Falls on Tuesday as Governor Mark Dayton made a trip there to survey the damage and reassure residents.

Sunshine on Tuesday didn't stop the weekend rain from swelling rivers along the Canadian border. Seeing homes and highways submerged by flood water was shocking for Governor Dayton.

“Real devastation to see that much water spread that wide. I've driven along Highway 11 many times and I know what it's like on a normal basis. This is just a disaster,” Dayton said.

The flooding came on quickly for residents at the junction of the Rainy River and Little Fork River. Richard Evans said his mother's house is dry for now, but some neighbors were taking on water as they piled sandbags ever higher.

“Every time we thought we had it done the water would come up more, and the walls would weaken so they had to strengthen the inside of it. They went up to about 5 to 6 feet on the bags,” Evans said.

He said several families have abandoned their homes because boats are needed to reach them. Sheriff Brian Jespersen said volunteers have filled over 100,000 sandbags to help save some homes.

“I was told one home we've lost, but the other dikes they built around, there is probably 12 to 15 homes that are diked around, they are holding so far,” Jespersen said.

Dayton and local leaders hope a state emergency assistance program can help pay for recovery, but a tally of the damage is still ongoing.

“I don't know what the scope of the situation is here,” Dayton said.

The area must meet a damage threshold of $500,000 to qualify for the program, but International Falls Mayor Bob Anderson said that is usually limited to infrastructure damage. Anderson worried that the flooding around International Falls mostly affected private property.

Evans said his neighbors likely can't fall back on insurance.

“I don't think any of them have flood insurance because this was not a flood plain,” Evans said.

Sheriff Jespersen said the rivers may have peaked on Tuesday, and fair weather could help if it lasts.

“If Mother Nature cooperates it doesn't take long for these rivers to drop. The lake takes quite a while, but these rivers could drop fairly quickly,” Jespersen said.

Authorities said about 20 homes on Rainy Lake east of International Falls have also been threatened by high water, but the sandbag levies have been able to prevent any damage there.

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