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NORTHWOOD: Unsure insurance

NORTHWOOD, N.D. - Despite devastation from Sunday's tornado that affected 90 percent of the homes, this city of 1,000 likely won't qualify for federal emergency aid for individuals because so much of the town is well insured privately, Gov. John ...

NORTHWOOD, N.D. - Despite devastation from Sunday's tornado that affected 90 percent of the homes, this city of 1,000 likely won't qualify for federal emergency aid for individuals because so much of the town is well insured privately, Gov. John Hoeven said Friday.

That means people who are "underinsured or uninsured," probably won't get FEMA assistance for tornado damage to their homes, vehicles or other property. But state government will help out, North Dakota's governor said.

"It's that gap we are working on," Hoeven promised during a news conference. He's still pressing FEMA to approve individual assistance for Northwood, and he won't find out the verdict until early next week, Hoeven said.

There are three types of federal aid that Northwood is seeking, and already it's clear that the city will qualify for two of them, Hoeven said. Public assistance and FEMA funds for public buildings, such as the city-owned fire hall that disappeared or the U.S. Post Office, will be available, because there was enough damage to qualify, Hoeven said.

And there will be Small Business Administration loans available for businesses and homeowners, with low interest rates of 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively, Hoeven said. He's asked for a presidential disaster declaration to speed up federal help, Hoeven said Friday.


Because 90 percent of homeowners in Northwood have private insurance, it appears the city won't qualify for FEMA's individal assistance, Hoeven said.

So far, about 500 claims for insurance have been filed by homeowners, auto owners and business owners, Jim Poolman, state insurance commissioner, said.

Northwood has 460 homes, including single-family houses, multiple family dwellings and apartments and mobile homes. Or had. Sixteen of the 20 mobile homes in two parks in town were destroyed by the EF4 tornado that hit about 8:45 p.m. Sunday, leaving a 0.8-mile-wide path across the square-mile city from southwest to northeast.

All but 29 of the homes were affected, 57 of them destroyed and another 73 with major structural damage.

Eighteen houses were destroyed, another 56 took major damage, according to a preliminary assessment done by the American Red Cross.

Claims come in

Claims worth about $20 million have been filed for homes, automobiles and businesses, and about $7 million in claims for damages to public buildings, including $5 million to $6 million at the school alone, have come in to the state's Fire and Tornado Fund, Poolman said. He estimates that $27 million may be about 60 percent of the total monetary damage done in Northwood by the tornado, Poolman said. Many claims still haven't come in, he said.

"Some people are getting frustated," because their insurance agents have not yet contacted them or inspected their homes or other property, Poolman said Friday. "We are going to be calling a couple of those companies and telling them they need to get more people here to do the job."


Some businesses will take losses in the interruption of their business because of the damage, and those claims still have not been tabulated, Poolman said. AGVISE, the city's third largest employer, took great damage to its building and the contents, much of which are scientific technology and research equipment. Even as Hoeven spoke at a news conference outside City Hall on Friday, a tall crane was tearing apart the 85-feet-tall wooden granary and feedmill that has formed part of Northwood's skyline since before World War II.

Another, even taller crane, waited next to the 100-foot-tall white concrete grain silos that give Northwood its signature look from miles away. Several equally tall steel bins stand full of wheat but crinkled on top from the tornado, and the work of removing the ruined equipment and materials began Friday.

The consensus opinion is that the bins may be salvagable, saved largely because they were full of grain and withstood the tornado.

Fortunately, farmers are mostly between harvests, with small grains off the fields and beans and corn not quite ready, said Gervenna Sauer, office manager at the elevator. "We're cutting grain checks and doing what we can do," she said Friday.

CDBG funds

Hoeven said the state would use its Community Development Block Grants to help Northwood tornado victims with needs unmet by federal aid or private insurance. "I've already made $1 million in CDBG funds available," he said Friday.

While CDBG money is mostly federal in origin, it belongs to the state, and "it's money we would use in other ways if not for this," Hoeven said.

The fact that the state has a $400 million budget surplus is helpful right now, Hoeven said. "We want to go through the process with FEMA first. Then we have the CDBG money. If there are still unmet needs, we know we can go to the Emergency Commission if necessary."


If FEMA does decide, as expected, that the city won't qualify for individual assistance, the state will make up to $28,200 in CDBG money available to those denied SBA loans, Hoeven said.

The city has incurred about $1.5 million in damages just to its public infrastructure, and 85 percent of that will be covered by federal and state money, Hoeven said. The State Fire and Tornado Fund will pay nearly the entire cost of repairing or replacing the city's school, fire hall, airport authority, community center and other public structures, according to Hoeven.

One overlooked item might be all the debris carried miles by the tornado and now posing problems for farmers.

"We have standing corn that must have tons and tons of sheet metal," Paul Korsmo told Hoeven.

It's probably the best corn crop ever in the county and the most acres planted. But he's not sure how to remove the twisted hunks of junk dropped at random across corn fields seven and eight feet tall, Korsmo said. One salvage operator, Randy Trosen from Crookston, already has begun picking up metal debris in fields five miles east of Northwood with a skid-steer loader.


"Northwood will never be the same," Mayor Richard Johnson said at the news conference. "I just hope the heart, soul and body of Northwood remains the same and it comes back strong."

He praised the hundreds of people who have arrived to help the city clean up.


"We registered over 400 volunteers (Thursday) and have over 330 already today," Johnson said Friday.

Gilman Beck, a longtime volunteer on the community's emergency medical team, has been busy going between taking care of family members and helping others, while receiving help himself from family, neighbors and strangers, who have cleaned up his yard and house and fed him warm meals.

"It's so heartwarming to see that amount of compassion," Beck said. "People have come from all over."

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