Madison Montgomery and her boyfriend, Gregory Nauykas, return with a boat to Nauykas' flooded home to gather belongings after evacuating because of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Debby in New Port Richey, Fla., June 26. Parts of the main interstate highway across northern Florida were closed by flooding as Debby hung on stubbornly offshore over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening up to 2 feet of rain in places. (CNS photo/Brian Blanco, Reuters)
Flooding in Duluth, Superior dioceses worst seen in more than 40 years
By Joe Winter
Catholic News Service
HUDSON, Wis. - In adjoining port cities where rivers flow into the western tip of Lake Superior, Catholic officials continued to help people who were displaced and had their homes damaged by 10 inches of rain that fell in just a few hours.
The June 20 torrential rains that hit areas of the Diocese of Superior, Wis., and the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., caused the worst flooding that those places have experienced in more than 40 years. The high waters created sinkholes, washed out roads, and damaged houses and other buildings in several neighborhoods.
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency visited the area for the first time June 28 to assess the damage. It could take up to three months for storm victims to receive federal disaster aid.
A similar weather scene played out in northern Florida, where even more rain fell over a four-day period as Tropical Storm Debby slowly made its way across the state. As Debby headed east toward the Atlantic Ocean June 27, the storm was downgraded to a tropical depression.
New reports said the hardest hit area in Florida was around Tallahassee, the state capital, with some places getting as much as 26 inches of rain. FEMA officials also were assessing the situation in that state.
In Minnesota, many people hit hard by the storm are not used to asking for help, said Patrice Critchley-Menor, Duluth’s diocesan social apostolate director.
“They are used to giving, not getting,” Critchley-Menor said, adding that she and others working with relief efforts have heard many times that “others have it worse, or this could have been even worse.”
Officials in many agencies were working to assess the damage, expecting the full extent of emergency needs wouldn’t be known for a couple of weeks. Long-term assessments won’t be completed for months.
Days after the storm, dozens of local residents were still taking refuge at emergency shelters, and some were not being let back into their evacuated neighborhoods because of safety concerns. Only emergency workers were being allowed entry.
Duluth’s chancery and some parish buildings sustained damage but it was minimal, said spokesman Kyle Eller. Many of the buildings are on large hills, away from the main flooding areas.
Since the storm abated, help has been coming in quickly from many places to assist those with flooded houses, but their needs go beyond fixing wet and smelly basements, said Critchley-Menor, adding that it takes all sorts of volunteers, including mental health workers and those who can offer moral support.
“We were not expecting this. It is all new to us. We have never had something like this happen before,” she added.
“There is the shock and the immediate need to get things cleaned up,” said Tracy Lynn of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Superior. She said the society is like a “triage” organization to fill in gaps, after others like the Red Cross and Catholic Charities take the lead.
In the Superior Diocese, Calvary Cemetery was flooded with 2.5 feet of water. The chancery office had a half-inch of water in the basement. That lower level houses finance offices and their equipment and documents, the staff of the Catholic Herald diocesan newspaper, and the religious formation offices.
The first workday after the storm employees were allowed back into the offices after a two-hour delay, but cleanup was still under way a week later, according to Richard Lyons, Superior’s diocesan spokesman.
Superior Bishop Peter F. Christensen had been traveling when the storm hit and found his way to back into the city blocked by floodwaters, said his secretary. Parts of Interstate 35, the main highway into Superior, were closed.
Sinkholes big enough to swallow a tractor-trailer formed in many places in the region.
Bishop Christensen’s residence escaped damage because it is on high ground away from the shoreline, as is the residence of his counterpart in Duluth, Bishop Paul D. Sirba.
The boiler room of Superior’s Cathedral of Christ the King was flooded with between six inches and a foot of water. Parish offices and a tunnel that connects them to the parish school were flooded, said Jessica Poskozim, parish development director. The parish lost a lot of documents and books, carpet needed to be removed and paneling was damaged.
“We are still sorting through what’s been damaged and writing all these things down,” she said, but the damage could have been worse. “The water went up fairly quickly and went down fairly quickly.”
Across town, St. Anthony Church also had water damage from sewer backups.
“At this point, it is my understanding that the damages to diocesan and parish properties will be covered through our Catholic Mutual insurance program,” Lyons said. He and those from other agencies said it was too soon to compile monetary damage estimates.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops