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Brandon Stahl, Forum Communications, Published June 24 2012

Options might be available for uninsured flood victims

DULUTH, Minn. – It is one of the most devastating images from the flood: The side of an entire street has fallen into an embankment, with what appears to be part of a house held up only by two pieces of wood.

That precarious structure is a children’s playhouse and is attached to the Cody Inn Apartments in west Duluth, said Jim Pedersen, the son of Bob and Jean Pedersen, who own the apartments.

Jim Pedersen said his father spoke with his insurance agent Friday morning about coverage for the damage, but was told that without flood insurance, “there was nothing they could do.”

Neither Bob nor Jean Pedersen could be reached for this story.

The Pedersens aren’t alone. Only 111 flood insurance policies have been sold in Duluth, according to Kris Eide, director of the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management office.

“Who would think, when you live on a hill, you need flood insurance?” she said.

Unless a property owner has flood insurance or a rider on their regular policy that covers some parts of flood damage, such as sewer backups, people who have flood damage “probably won’t get covered,” said Rockne Johnson, an agent with American Family Insurance in Duluth.

As to whether flood victims will get state or federal disaster aid, it depends on the type of emergency that’s declared – but it could take weeks for homeowners to get help, and they could see only a small amount of money.

If an emergency declaration for public assistance is declared by the president, then all disaster money will go to state and local governments to pay for replacing or fixing public infrastructure, such as roads, sewer and water systems and other government property.

But if a public assistance and individual assistance emergency is declared, private property owners will be eligible for many types of help, including temporary housing, repair or replacement of damaged housing, and even disaster-related medical and dental costs.

However, the cap for those dollars is $31,000.

“When you lose a home,” Eide said, “$31,000 doesn’t go very far.”

It will be up to Gov. Mark Dayton to determine what type of disaster declaration to request of the president, and it is a process that could take weeks, Eide said.

“It’s all based on how does this disaster impact families, and does it exceed the capabilities of insurance companies, the community and nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments to help those families recover?”

The state has been denied the two times it has requested disaster funding, Eide said.

“So then we look at the programs that are available from social service agencies, and from communities and from state agencies,” she said.

Many of those agencies will provide short-term relief to flood victims starting this week. The United Way-operated service 211 has been taking calls from people who are asking for assistance since the start of the floods. Those people will be matched with people and organizations that have offered to help with the recovery efforts, said 211 coordinator Rory Strange.

“There are a lot of people that want to help,” he said.

Even people looking for advice on how to clean up could call 211, Strange said.

While there isn’t any short-term funding assistance available now through the United Way, Strange said the group is looking at creating a recovery fund.

Other long-term assistance might be available to property owners in the form of tax breaks, said Carlton County Assessor Marci Moreland. Depending on the damage, homeowners could see up to 100 percent property tax relief for 2012-13.

Eide said the Federal Small Business Administration may also be able to provide low-interest loans for business owners and families affected by the floods, while Minnesota Housing and Finance also provides some disaster relief.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue also provides tax abatements and credits for people who have 50 percent or more damage to their properties.

To be eligible for any aid, Eide said, people should take photographs and take a written inventory of their losses. Everything should be photographed before any repairs or removals occur so there is proof of damage for any program, she said, whether it is private insurance or government aid.

Forum Communications Capitol Bureau reporter Don Davis contributed

to this report

Brandon Stahl writes for the Duluth News Tribune