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Homeowners in the Red River Valley should call FEMA now, but some flood repairs need drying time

Mark Vanyo, right, of Moorhead talks to FEMA worker John Shrum on Thursday in the service center set up in south Moorhead. (Michael Vosburg/The Forum)

MOORHEAD - With the Red River in retreat and summerlike weather expected soon, many people will be tempted to start rebuilding their recently soaked basements.

You might want to hold off.

If things aren't sufficiently dry, mold will take hold, said Rudy Nelson with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Clay County.

Cleanup work is fine, but Nelson advised waiting weeks, maybe even months, before starting major remodeling.

The Extension Service will soon have moisture meters available that people can borrow to determine whether homes are dry enough to rebuild.

It's not known when the meters will arrive, but anyone interested can check on availability by calling the Extension Service at (218) 299-5020.

First steps

The initial move for anyone looking for flood assistance should be a call to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Phone the agency at (800) 621-3362 to register, or go to

After people register, FEMA inspects their home and the information is used to determine what assistance they may qualify for.

FEMA can provide grants to pay for what is needed to make a building safe and livable. If insurance covers such costs, FEMA won't.

The maximum someone can receive from FEMA for individual assistance, things such as temporary housing or grants for housing repair, is $30,300.

The Small Business Administration is partnering with FEMA to provide homeowners and renters - not just businesses - with assistance.

If someone qualifies, the SBA can offer low-interest loans up to $40,000 to replace lost personal goods and up to $200,000 for home repair.

Recovery centers

Once someone registers with FEMA, they can get many of their questions answered and discuss their FEMA file by visiting a disaster center.

In Moorhead, a center is located in the old Edison school building at 12th Avenue and 14th Street South.

In Fargo, a center is set up in the Cass County Courthouse Annex at 1010 2nd Ave. S.

In addition to providing information about possible financial assistance, the centers offer advice on how to avoid or reduce flood problems in the future.

Buying flood insurance is at the top of the list, said Jerry Smithers, a mitigation adviser working at the recovery center in Moorhead.

Smithers also said that in this part of the country adding a sewer backup rider to a basic homeowner's policy should be a given.


Although FEMA supplies the funds, home buyouts are handled by state and local authorities. The process hinges on whether money is available.

Depending on where you live, here is some contact information for anyone who wants to explore a buyout:

* Fargo officials ask that people submit their interest in writing. Send inquiries to: City of Fargo, Engineering Department, 200 N. 3rd St., Fargo, ND, 58102.

* In Moorhead, funding for buyouts is not available, but the city is starting a list in case funds materialize. Call (218) 299-5370.

* In Clay County, phone (218) 299-5002 to get placed on a list for consideration.

* In Cass County, call (701) 241-5617.

'You gotta apply'

Keith Melroe's home in Oakport Township north of Moorhead suffered flooding on two of its four levels.

After registering with FEMA, Melroe got a visit from an inspector.

"He (the inspector) was very thorough. I thought it was very professionally done," said Melroe, who was paying a visit to the disaster recovery center in Moorhead.

Melroe said federal officials didn't give him an immediate answer to his request for FEMA grants and an SBA loan.

"You gotta apply," he said.

Melroe didn't have flood insurance because he didn't think he would need it based on the 1997 flood level of 39.6 feet.

This year, the Red River hit 40.82 feet March 28.

"Our house was pretty high, we were like at 39 (feet) at the foundation," said Melroe. "That extra foot makes a lot of difference."