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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Walz tours flood-damaged city

David Colburn
Posted 6/27/24

COOK— Gov. Tim Walz traveled to Cook on Friday with area legislators and other state officials to assess the damage from the flash flood that inundated the town on Wednesday after torrential …

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Walz tours flood-damaged city


COOK— Gov. Tim Walz traveled to Cook on Friday with area legislators and other state officials to assess the damage from the flash flood that inundated the town on Wednesday after torrential rains on Tuesday.
Local residents and Mayor Harold Johnston moved to greet Walz when the motorcade arrived, and the governor quickly engaged in conversations to hear their stories and concerns.
Residents described the flood’s rapid rise and its impact on their lives and livelihoods. Ashley Franks, who runs Franks Pharmacy, recounted how her building took on four feet of water, destroying up to 20 percent of her inventory.
Theresa Drift, a local homeless advocate, shared her harrowing experience.
“It went from completely dry to probably three or four feet of water by Wednesday evening,” she said. “I had a really fast sump pump, but it couldn’t keep up.” Drift, now staying temporarily with a friend, added, “I work with homeless people and now I’m homeless.”
John Jordan, co-owner of The Wash House laundromat, described a similar scene.
“Tuesday night, I had water coming into the laundromat. We stopped it,” he said. “Wednesday morning the place was dry, I had customers and by the afternoon I was underwater. The community really depends on that laundromat, and I have no idea when I’ll be able to open again so the community can use it.”
Walz heard comments from citizens about deficiencies they perceived in the initial response to the flood, including lack of communication and sandbagging.
“We should have been sandbagging on Wednesday,” Drift said. “We had flooding in 2018, we should have known better.”
Resident Dan Manick was also critical of the lack of sandbagging.
“St. Louis County did not bring sandbags,” he said. “There’s not one load of sand that came from St. Louis County. Private contractors started dropping sand off. We had citizens bagging 1,500 sandbags that came from U.S. Steel. They could have done something in the morning. I know people are going to be here saying thanks everybody for what you did – they didn’t do a damn thing for us.”
The flooding that left a large portion of Cook submerged mid-week had started to recede by the time Walz arrived at noon Friday, but there was still plenty to see as the governor and others in his party climbed into two St. Louis County Rescue Squad Sherp amphibious vehicles for a close-up tour of the flooded business district and neighborhoods.
Afterwards, Walz delivered remarks to the crowd and media.
Walz praised the community spirit in the face of adversity, saying, “When you have a disaster like this happen, it’s family helping neighbors. I want to thank everyone for keeping your neighbors safe, for being there to help them haul things out of their businesses as they’re needed. It’s just critically important.”
Walz explained the process for getting a federal disaster declaration that would clear the way for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Officials will assess the damage in the coming days and weeks, with the state likely applying for a federal disaster declaration. If the required financial damage threshold is reached, FEMA would reimburse the state for 75 percent of the cost to replace public infrastructure, with the state covering the balance through a disaster assistance contingency account. That account currently has $26 million in it, but the Legislature authorized an additional $50 million for the fund. Walz said they would move as quickly as they can.
“There’s a real sense of urgency, fast, fast, fast is the way to go to try to get things up again,” Walz said.
Walz made a plea to residents to care for their mental health and that of their neighbors.
“This initial part hits and then this is going to be weeks of recovery and things that you have to do,” he said. “The mental aspect of this is keep an eye on each other. Think about this, this is very emotional. Folks have lost all of the things they own. They have lost precious keepsakes from their children when they were in kindergarten, those things are all real. We’ve seen this in these situations before – we need to keep an eye on each other.”
Walz also encouraged citizens to participate in a review of the local response to the flood.
“This is an opportunity to do an after-action review on things that could have been done on the front end, things that maybe weren’t there,” he said. “Some folks talked about did we have enough sandbags? Are we getting the notices out fast enough? Those are all fair things as a community to think about.”
MPR News contributed to this report.