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Residents return to Minot to begin rebuilding

MINOT -- Bonnie Lodden moved into her northwest Minot home from Michigan a week before the Souris River overtook her neighborhood.

Now she's gutting the basement and main level -- which took on more than 4 feet of murky, contaminated river water -- to rebuild despite losing everything.

"We moved everything in and lost it all," said Lodden, who lives with her son. "It's kind of devastating, but we're keeping our heads up."

A flood isn't the warmest of welcomes to a new neighborhood, but Lodden said she isn't swayed in her decision to relocate to North Dakota.

"Minot seems to be a nice little town, so we're here for the duration," she said.

About a quarter of Minot's 41,000 residents evacuated last month as the river rose and eventually crested on June 26 at a record 1,561.7 feet. Authorities estimate that 4,000 homes in the state's fourth-largest city were damaged. About 800 sustained severe damage. The Souris is expected to remain high through August.

Many who returned to their homes to survey the damage prepared themselves for what they might find, but were still shocked at the extent of damage.

"I never imagined it would be like this," said Kerri Tepler, who grew up in the home her mother lived in until the flood hit along 19th Street Northwest. "I imagined the worst and it was worse."

Most boulevards in this area of town are piled high with debris. Sheetrock and carpet line most properties, but many homeowners also lost furniture, appliances, clothing and toys -- everything in some cases.

One of the biggest shocks for Tepler -- and most others -- was the stench of soaked interiors and the thick mold spores covering nearly every surface that was touched by water.

Sisters Brenda Duggins of Florida and Tracey Holtz-Liebler of California are spending their annual summer trip to Minot cleaning out their 78-year-old mother's home in which they

grew up.

They got into the home Monday, but Duggins and Holtz-Liebler were still waiting for some of the waterlogged kitchen cabinets and drawers to dry out enough to pry open.

What they found inside was still a shock, Holtz-Liebler said. The silverware tray was filled with black water and mold spores, and once-empty canisters needed to be poured out.

"If you never go through it, you just don't know what water can do," Duggins said. "You don't realize how destructive water can be."

"But it could be so much worse, too," Holtz-Liebler said.

Even as hundreds of residents are let back into their neighborhoods to begin the cleanup, many more are still waiting for the Souris to recede.

Don and Annette Schafer were among some of the first wave to return to homes on July 3. This week the Schafers, whose main floor took on a foot and a half of water, already had some of their Federal Emergency Management Agency money to begin rebuilding their stripped-bare upstairs.

Despite having a house that is stripped bare from the basement to the main floor's ceiling, Annette Schafer said they were fortunate to be on the edge of the river's wrath.

"We were one of the lucky ones," she said. "A lot of people haven't gotten back in yet."

The Schafers, who are staying with friends on high ground, said it's just the beginning of what will be a long cleanup.

"I'm thinking it's probably a year before we get back to anywhere near normal," Don Schafer said.

Shaffer is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.