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Gov. Tim Walz visits western Minnesota to view storm damage, hear concerns

Gov. Tim Walz visited Benson and viewed some of the damage caused by a May 12 storm. State officials said people affected by the storm should take photos and document what they do in cleaning up, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be seeking that information when it assesses the damage in 49 affected Minnesota counties.

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Gov. Tim Walz speaks with Benson area farmer Rick Flower, right, and state Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, left, about the damage on Flower's farmstead south of Benson. Walz toured storm damage while visiting Benson on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.
Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune
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BENSON — Rick Flower had a shop on his farmstead south of Benson where he did auto body work. It’s gone now.

Wind took it away during the May 12 storms that caused widespread damage in the state. All that’s left of the shop is a concrete slab and the framework of three metal hoists.

Flower and his wife, Rhonda, said they will rebuild, but he may be done doing auto repair. He plans to keep farming, he said, though grain bins and other sheds were damaged on the farm, too.

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Gov. Tim Walz speaks, center, with Kristina Smith and Jason Connelly on May 18, 2022, about the storm damage on their farm. The May 12 storm damaged many buildings and trees on the farm, which is south of Benson.
Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

At the Connelly family farm not far away, brothers Chad and Jason Connelly lost four grain bins and a shed. Other sheds were likely damaged beyond repair.

Their big equipment, waiting to go in the fields, was not in the sheds, they said.

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Members of both families told Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday afternoon that they were glad no one was injured at either farm.

Like most farmers in the area, their biggest concern is getting into the fields. A related concern is where they’ll put their crop in the fall if their grain bins can’t be replaced in time.

Before touring the farms, Walz met with a group of local government and business leaders to talk about the damage.

Walz was accompanied by Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen and Joe Kelly, the state’s director of homeland security and emergency management.

They listened to stories about the damage in the area and offered some advice.

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A view of some of the damage, photographed May 18, 2022, at the Rick and Rhonda Flower farm south of Benson following the May 12 storm that swept through Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz visited the area to view the damage and meet with local officials Wednesday.
Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

It’s important that property owners and local governments document the damage as they clean up, Kelly said.

Kelly and Petersen said people with damage should contact their private insurance agents, take pictures of everything as they are cleaning up, and keep track of everything they do.

The damage listed by the group was extensive — in addition to hundreds of trees toppled across the area, 450 homes were damaged and three destroyed in Lac qui Parle County; numerous trees and the stadium press box were lost at Benson Public Schools; and the fire hall roof blew off in Morris, where the airport was also damaged and is still closed. Some rural residents are still waiting for power to be restored.

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Jennie-O Turkey Store President Steve Lykken said the company had an estimated $15 million loss in barns that were damaged by the storm. Some were “completely razed,” he said.

About 70 to 80 jobs have been affected at 12 sites, Lykken said.

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The May 12 storm left a mass of twisted metal where a year-old grain bin once stood on the Connelly family farm south of Benson. Gov. Tim Walz visited the Benson area Wednesday, May 18, 2022, to view storm damage and meet with local officials.
Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

Walz wanted to know what the most immediate need was for the communities with damage. He has already lifted some trucking industry regulations to allow cleanup to continue uninterrupted.

Benson Mayor Terri Collins said some people seem confused about where to turn to begin their cleanup.

“Don’t wait; do what you have to do to clean up,” Kelly said. “Just report all your damages.”

In addition to contacting insurance adjusters, people should contact their local emergency managers, he said.

When Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives arrive in the state soon, they will be assessing 49 counties, and will want to see the debris that has been cleared, Kelly said.

Walz asked if people who were still without power had help. County officials said the Red Cross, Salvation Army and community members had responded.

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The governor asked about mental health issues, too.

Petersen said the state Agriculture Department can offer help for farmers who are struggling with the multiple stresses farmers face.

The department has a 24-hour helpline at 833-600-2670 that offers free, confidential counseling. Help is also available by texting FARMSTRESS to 898211.

The department has farm advocates working around the state, too, Petersen said. They can mediate stressful situations and “help them get some breathing room,” he said.

“It’s a show of strength to seek help,” Walz said. “You can only take so many crises, one after another.”

At the Connelly farm, he talked about damage and about the stress people in rural areas face.

“A lot of farmers you talk to, yes, they had damage, but they are concerned about the crop situation,” Walz said at the Connelly farm. A cold spring and wet weather has kept many farmers out of the fields.

He pointed to what was left of a grain bin — mostly twisted metal stairs — and said, “The thing that always strikes you, you’ll have one farmstead untouched and then you’ll come here.” He gestured at the multiple damaged buildings.

“You hear these things on the news, and people kinda move on,” he said. “I think Minnesotans need to know this is a bad series of storms; this is a lot of devastation.”

For more information about coping with farm and rural stress, go to the Department of Agriculture website www.mda.state.mn.us/about/mnfarmerstress/copingstress.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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