The President declared a major disaster area of 18 southeastern Minnesota counties last Thursday. In his declaration, President Barack Obama ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms, straight-line winds and flooding during the period of June 20 to 26.

The disaster area includes the counties of Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin.

Preliminary damage assessments determined the storms caused $17.8 million in damage to public infrastructure across the state. Communities in the affected counties are now eligible for federal assistance.

Preliminary damage estimates compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management division (HSEM) showed eligible debris removal to be an estimated $5 million and emergency protective measures to be $1.8 million. Estimates for repair to roads and bridges were $9 million; for water control facilities, $1 million; for buildings and equipment, $234,374; to utilities, $585,617; and $73,780 for parks, recreational facilities and other items.

Locally, several bridges and roads were washed out in Fillmore and Houston counties. Fillmore County had an estimated $146,800 in debris damage, $73,500 in emergency protective damage, $1.62 million in bridge and road damage, $15,000 in water control facilities damage, $30,000 in other public entity building damage, $60,000 in municipal utilities damage and $23,500 in parks and recreation damage.

The letter sent from Gov. Mark Dayton, requesting a Presidential disaster declaration, specifically mentioned that Houston and Fillmore counties were still recovering from flash flooding in 2007 and 2008. FEMA estimated the road and bridge damage to represent a per capita cost of $304.19.

Houston County had an estimated $383,150 in debris damage, $145,100 in emergency protective damage, $5.79 million in bridge and road damage, $85,100 in water control facilities damage, $3,200 in other public entity building damage, $51,200 in municipal utilities damages, and $5,000 in parks and recreation damage.

The letter reported Houston County had 24 county bridges and 25 township bridges damaged. Approximately 36 miles of township roads were closed.

The city of Mabel was mentioned as having sustained damage to its main park. It described how the water had "ripped up the concrete-supported fence posts surrounding the baseball field, creating a public safety hazard." It said the damages were not covered by the city's insurance policy and the park was still closed. The per capita loss from the city park was $87.18.

Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms, straight-line winds and flooding. Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

FEMA will reimburse 75 percent of approved costs. The 25 percent non-federal share is the responsibility of state and local governments.

The storm system began with 5.6 inches of rain in Stevens County on June 20 and ended with 8.25 inches of rain in Wilkin County on June 26. Parts of the state saw record 48-hour rainfall amounts. One to two inch-per-hour rainfall caused flash flooding and mudslides in many locations. Thousands of trees were uprooted and fell on public buildings and roads. At the peak, 600,000 buildings were without electricity, making it the largest power outage in Minnesota history.

This disaster declaration also includes funding for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. This is assistance for actions taken to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural hazards. All counties in the state are eligible to apply for assistance under this program.

Now that the President has made the declaration, FEMA will establish an office locally, aimed at assisting cities and counties in answering eligibility questions, working on applications, approving federally funded projects, surveying completed work and reimbursing the work.

W. Craig Fugate, FEMA administrator, named Kari Suzann Cowie as the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.