FEMA lands in Minneapolis for a whirlwind tour

Assessing the damage
Homeowner Brett Buckner talks with Jenny Kane of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Crews from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) went going door-to-door Thursday in north Minneapolis surveying the damage caused by Sunday's tornado. The agents are assessing damage to public and private property, as well as to streets and sidewalks. The cost estimates will be used to determine if a federal disaster will be declared here.

Minneapolis city officials have already indicated they will seek disaster assistance from the state. And Gov. Mark Dayton will ask President Obama to declare a federal disaster. If a federal disaster is declared, then two types of assistance will become available: individual and public. FEMA's Mark Peterson says individual assistance is available to help homeowners and renters recover from the storm.

"And then there's also public assistance. And public assistance is for municipalities and counties to be reimbursed for costs associated with damage to public infrastructure and debris removal, which you see a lot of here."

Four teams of FEMA agents, along with representatives from the Small Business Administration and the state's Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security surveyed the damage. They worked quickly, trying to get repair estimates in a timely manner.

"That information can be relayed to the state -- gathered up and relayed to the state -- so the state can make the determination about what kind of assistance or if they'd like to request a federal disaster declaration," Peterson said.

One of the homes they looked at was Brett Buckner's. A state agent Jenny Kane, asked Buckner to describe the damage.

"And I see you must have some extensive roof damage," she said.

Buckner replied, "The roof is gone."

"The roof is gone?" she asked.

FEMA agent Deborah Bivens
FEMA agent Deborah Bivins documents some of the damage in north Minneapolis.
MPR Photo

"Yeah."

"Like, you look up and ..."

"The dining room is open," Buckner described. "The front room, the ceiling is still there."

Buckner's front door had a red placard on it, meaning it's not safe to occupy. It's one of about 150 homes city officials have declared unlivable. He's staying with friends. The surveyors asked Buckner how many people live here, if he has homeowner's insurance, if his car was damaged and if it was insured. Buckner replied that he has insurance for both his home and his car, which was damaged. The whole interview took just a few minutes.

One problem the teams has finding as they step over and walk around piles of tree debris on the boulevards and yards is that many residents are not home. While interviews with residents are not necessary to complete the estimates, they are helpful, according to Doug Neville of the state Department of Public Safety.

"We want to talk to the homeowners," Neville said. "We want to find out how has this impacted your home. What's your living situation? Are you left with nothing? Because that becomes part of a compelling story that our governor can tell to the president when he makes that request."

The sight of state and federal agencies in the neighborhood was a welcome one for homeowner Alto Richardson. He told FEMA surveyors his home is still livable, but the house next to his took heavy damage.

"I'm glad to see the federal government out here," he said. "I'm glad to see the community is pulling together on the different levels. And it's good to see that everybody is pitching in."

The state and federal responders are expected to finish their survey before the weekend. However, FEMA officials say they will stay as long as it takes to get an accurate assessment of the damage.

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