Reporting Bill Hudson
RUSHFORD, Minn. (WCCO) – Nestled in Minnesota’s southeastern bluff country, Rushford is both scenic and quaint. But five years ago, its greatest asset became its worst enemy.
“The water was up to here,” said Mayor Chris Hallum, pointing to a light pole along the city’s main drag.
Between Aug. 18-19, 2007, 17-and-a-half inches of rain fell on the hills surrounding Rushford. The torrential downpours pushed the Root River and Rush Creek over their banks and swallowed up the entire downtown.
Now, five years and $30 million later, Rushford appears pretty as a postcard. All but a few homes have been repaired or rebuilt. Even all the downtown storefronts, all of which were surrounded by dirty floodwaters, have re-opened.
“We are back up on our feet,” city administrator Steve Sarvi said.
He said Rushford’s experience coming through disaster can be a learning opportunity for the flood-ravaged cities of the north. He says state and federal aid will cover most municipal repairs over time. But cities, he said, need to keep careful records of expenditures in order to get reimbursed for their recovery costs.
“It takes a lot longer to get reimbursed than you want, but you need to make those investments to get your city up and running,” Sarvi said.
As for the city’s 1,700 residents, the mayor says people “sacrificed a lot to stay.”
Hallum says less than a few hundred folks decided not to stay and rebuild. But for the majority who did, grants and loans helped them recover only a portion of their losses.
“There were people whose houses were paid off and they ended up torn down. They started over. That’s very hard to do when you’re 60,” Hallum said.