Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Madam President, I come to the Senate floor today to speak about the recent heavy rain storms in Minnesota that have caused significant flooding in our State. This was not a one-day disaster. This was not a sudden flash flood such as we saw in Duluth a few years ago or a tornado coming in. This was, in fact, a disaster that occurred over a series of weeks where we had rainfall after rainfall after rainfall. From International Falls on the Canadian border down to Luverne, MN, on the Iowa border, torrential rains have washed out roads, bridges, and culverts, damaged infrastructure and caused significant crop damage. In some of our counties, 40 percent of the farmlands are under water.
These storms have led to states of emergency being declared for 51 of Minnesota's 87 counties. We have not seen anything like this for a while. It tended to be, in the past, that we had a corner of our State that would see trouble, but here we have 51 of Minnesota's 87 counties being declared a state of emergency.
Over the past few weeks I have visited many of these affected areas and seen the damage firsthand. The city of Norwood Young America saw nearly 9 inches of rain in one night that caused more than $1 million in damage to its wastewater treatment facility. I saw how water-covered roads strained rural communities, how washed-out rail beds have caused another setback for our already-strained rail system, and how closed township bridges have further delayed shipments of agricultural products.
In southwest Minnesota, along with Senator FRANKEN and Governor Dayton, I met with farmers who were among those hardest hit by the storms. Up until a month ago, the same crop and pasture land in southern Minnesota that is now completely under water had been under drought conditions since 2011. And now not only are these farmers dealing with damage to crops, buildings, and fences due to the flooding, they also experienced losses in the past from a devastating hail storm.
In Rock County in southwestern Minnesota initial estimates indicate 100,000 acres of corn and soybeans are damaged, and the official U.S. Department of Agriculture number will likely be even greater. The extent of the crop damage is really not yet known. Excessive moisture can kill crops altogether or stunt their growth or put them at risk of diseases at lower yields. This disaster has repercussions that will be felt for months to come.
I talked with farmers in Luverne and in Mankato who are worried about how they will recover these losses and make ends meet. Farmers who were trying to finish planting now may have no hope of getting a crop into their flooded fields at all this summer, and those who did get a crop in are now watching their fields fill with water.
U.S. Department of Agriculture officials are still assessing the damage, and crop insurance adjusters are out in full force so that accurate reports can be filed with county FSA offices. This is a critical step to ensure that farmers and ranchers are not left out of the disaster assistance process.
Farmers operate at the mercy of the weather. Listening to stories of the great financial risk these small business owners face every single day--our State is a State of many small farms--it makes me proud of the work we did in the Senate and the work I did as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and conference committee to fight for permanent disaster programs with mandatory funding in the farm bill that we reauthorized earlier this year. If that were not in place, these farmers and, as a result, our food supply would be facing--Minnesota being one of the top agricultural producers in the country--a very uncertain future. These programs, in addition to the farm bill's improvements to crop insurance, will help provide a safety net for the farmers and the ranchers affected by the flood.
Last week Secretary Vilsack visited our State. He was up in the Moorhead area, and Senator HOEVEN, Senator HEITKAMP, Congressman PETERSON, and I met with him about some conservation issues up there with flooding. They are one of the areas of the State that have some flooding, but not as much right now; they usually have the most flooding. But when he was there he committed to me that the Farm Service Agency will do everything they can to provide any necessary resources and support for our farmers and ranchers.
Just yesterday the Minnesota FSA executive director informed me that she has directed county FSA offices to immediately begin holding community meetings to ensure that farmers and ranchers impacted by these floodwaters have the information they need. Because here we have a new farm bill, and while it is very similar to the last one, there are new rules in place. They have to make critical decisions about if they replant, if they can get emergency loans; what they should plant, if their fields have been devastated, including cover crop; and what is going to be happening in the next few months. They need the information.
Floods have a devastating impact not only on farmers but also on families and small businesses. The damage that these storms caused will not be undone overnight. There is still a lot of hard work ahead of us, and the long cleanup process has already begun. But we have already seen a swift and efficient response on the part of State and local officials. And in our State, FEMA may be a four-letter word, but it is a good four-letter word. When we saw what had happened in Grand Forks, the Nation was riveted many, many years ago by the flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota. That has recovered. Those are booming areas now. Fargo-Moorhead also experienced significant funding, and FEMA was involved and helped us there. We appreciate the work they are doing in assessing the damage now and the help we know will be coming.
It is critical that the Federal Government do its part to ensure that the resources these families, businesses, and communities need are there to get them back on their feet. Two weeks ago I spoke directly with the President in the White House about the flood damage across the State, and he assured me there would be an immediate Federal response.
That is why the action by Governor Dayton yesterday to formally request that the President issue a major disaster declaration was so important. That is why we sent a letter to the President--our entire congressional delegation; all of the eight House Members and the two Senators--urging swift approval of this request.
Although work to assess the damage remains ongoing, so far nearly $11 million in eligible damages has been documented in just eight counties. That is just eight counties. One county alone, we know, has $9 million in damage. This is well above the $7.5 million threshold that Minnesota has to meet to get the 75-percent Federal match for those counties that have $3.50 per capita damage. So we imagine that a lot of these counties will be getting Federal help for infrastructure damage at that 75-percent mark.
Believe me when I say Minnesotans just are not sitting around waiting for help. The hard work of assessing the damage continues this week and is even expected to extend into the following week. Even though the damage across the State has reached a level high enough to trigger eligibility, each county is doing its damage assessment.
In some States, as I say, they have had problems with FEMA, but in our State for the most part we have been happy with the work they have done. In my time as a Senator, I have seen the 35W bridge collapse, I have seen the Federal Government step in with inordinate help to get that bridge rebuilt in less than a year.
I saw a tornado come into Wadena, MN, and literally pick up a high school like it was in the ``Wizard of Oz,'' the bleachers landing a mile away. In that town--because of Federal assistance in alerting those citizens about how to use their emergency systems--because of an alarm system and a siren that worked, despite the fact that their high school looked like a bomb had hit it, a major, large high school--not one person was killed. There was a high school lifeguard watching over 40 little kids at a swimming pool. The sirens went off. The parents got there within 10 minutes and had them all gone, and the few kids that were left ran over with the lifeguard, who had the presence of mind to stay in a neighbor's basement who they did not even know. Not one person died because that siren system worked, because people had practiced, because they knew what to do, and because we had the emergency system in place.
That high school is now rebuilt. Along with that high school being rebuilt, there is a beautiful new company that was rebuilt that is in the farming area, in the farm financing area. Their company was devastated. They did not have a basement. All they had was one safe that the man had bought, and he had joked that it was big enough to hold a few employees. That day when that tornado hit, there were four employees on duty. They went into that safe. That was the only thing that remained of that business. When that man rebuilt, he bought a big enough safe for all 20 of his employees--a true story.
But this is how Minnesota responds to disasters. Few things are more humbling than standing in those kinds of wreckages. Natural disasters are humbling because they remind us that nature is still more powerful than all the technology we have. But they are also humbling because they bring out the best in our communities. From what I have seen in our State--from those emergency responders diving into the Mississippi River over and over to look for survivors in the 35W bridge disaster or what I saw in Fargo-Moorhead, where a man was volunteering to give out food and lunches at the emergency center and I said to him: Oh, thank you for volunteering. What brings you here? He said: I lost my entire house. I said: And you came to volunteer? He said: It is the best thing I could do with my time--those are the things that I remember.
What I remember from these floods across the State--where, again, despite this incredible damage not one person died in our State from this flooding--I remember, again, those first responders and the normal citizens who just got up and helped their neighbors.
We saw this spirit of solidarity when a 911 call came in from a woman who was driving home to Anoka, MN, from Sioux Falls, SD, when her car spun out of control and was swept away. Water was inching up to the windows.
State Trooper Brian Beuning pushed through the rushing water when she called for help. He got her out of the car and held on to her until help arrived. The car ended up in a field a quarter of a mile away. A boat tried to rescue them, but the current was too swift. Finally, two firefighters from Luverne, MN, tied themselves to a semitruck and got the woman and the trooper to safety. Rather than running from disaster, those first responders bravely ran toward it; and that is my State for you.
In the face of ice storms, historic floods, tornadoes, even the collapse of that bridge, Minnesota does not fall apart. Minnesota comes together. When disaster hits our State, we hit the ground running and do not stop until we have the resources in place to ensure our communities are made whole. That means local and State help, but that also means Federal help.