'We are here for the duration': Homeland Security leader Janet Napolitano tours flooded Minot area
MINOT, N.D. - The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security assured local and state leaders that the federal government is dedicated to flood recovery throughout North Dakota.
"We are here for the duration," she said Wednesday in front of the receding Souris (Mouse) River near Minot City Hall.
Napolitano took a helicopter tour Wednesday in Minot, which still remains inundated by water in most damaged areas.
Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said those in Washington are aware of the widespread damage this spring and summer along the Souris, Missouri and Red rivers.
Napolitano encouraged flood-prone residents statewide to buy federal flood insurance.
"It's too late for the floods that have occurred, but not too late for floods in the future," she said.
But Napolitano acknowledged that the federal government won't be able to reimburse everything that was lost.
About a quarter of Minot's 41,000 residents evacuated last month as floodwaters reached epic proportions. Authorities estimated that 4,000 homes were damaged, including about 800 sustaining severe damage. Nearby communities, such as Burlington and Velva, also faced mass evacuations.
"In the end, we might not be able to help everyone with what they are going to need," Napolitano said. "Individuals may not be able to get 100 percent of what they had."
Gov. Jack Dalrymple estimated that this year's statewide flood damage has reached $1 billion. Dalrymple encouraged Napolitano on Wednesday to commit FEMA to a 90 percent federal reimbursement for flood expenses.
FEMA officials are working to enroll those affected in assistance programs for temporary housing, rent assistance, low-interest loans, disaster unemployment and other programs, Napolitano said.
The water in Minot on Wednesday was down about 8 feet from its record crest June 26, but some homes remain under 8 or more feet of water, Mayor Curt Zimbelman said.
Napolitano met in a closed-door meeting with state and local officials to discuss how Minot's recovery will take shape. It may mean moving homes farther from the Souris, but those are decisions left up to the communities, she said.
If federal help is needed for relocations, "we will find it," Napolitano said.
Emergency recovery operations in Minot are different than the long-term planning involved in a Red River diversion channel in Fargo, she said. But statewide disasters could help raise Congress' awareness of the severity of flooding problems in efforts to fund such a project, Napolitano said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511