Special Report: 'Long After The Water'

Posted at: 05/07/2013 12:07 PM
Updated at: 05/08/2013 10:38 PM

A year after homes were wiped out by summer flooding, many people in the Northland were lucky enough to move on from the flood of 2012.

About 1,900 families were left scrambling to rebuild, but those who work with flood victims said about 40 percent have finished putting the pieces back together. Another quarter have plans ready to go, with a contactor or loan lined up, but there's still about 150 families in limbo.

Those families' struggles are hidden behind closed doors.

"It was kind of a sad summer last year," Thomson resident Armas Koski said. "Today we're here; we can still smile a little."

Koski and his wife are one of those families still trying to figure out what to do. Flood waters shifted the foundation of their home, took out their driveway and garage and washed away many valuables in their basement.

A year later, signs of recovery have started to take shape in both Koski's home and in his outlook.

"It's improving each day a little bit; I'd put it that way," Koski said. "Can't buy no Mercedes or Jaguar or nothing like that, but that's how it goes."

Koski put new carpet over an uneven floor, and with the help of volunteers, he's cleaned up the four feet of water in his basement. Koski has still been parking his car in a garage where pavement completely cracked open. The roof of the garage is being held up my makeshift poles.

"We're living here," Koski said. "It's warm in here; we got by this winter."

While Koski is still living amidst the flood damage, others are having trouble just living with the memories.

"I hate to compare it to a battle because a battle is so much worse, but it's post-traumatic stress," Duluth resident Mike Cochran said.

Cochran said the flood shattered his sense of security and stole his love of thunderstorms.

"I used to really enjoy them," Cochran said. "I hope I will again, but I think there will always be that wondering."

Cochran lives on the Saint Louis River in the Fond Du Lac neighborhood, one of the hardest hit areas in Duluth. Last June, he didn't lose his home, but he lost piles of collectibles and memories. Cochran was remodeling when the flood hit, so precious valuables were ruined in his flooded basement.

"It was close to $50,000 all together," Cochran said.

Cochran has fixed and replaced almost everything, but not without more than a little help.

"Quite an outpouring of help and hope," Cochran said. "It was really heart warming to have the help of all our friends in doing the cleanup. We'd probably still be cleaning up if it wasn't for them."

Unfortunately, some families are still doing exactly that.

"The number who need to rebuild is shrinking everyday, but there is still a couple hundred people who haven't quite figured out what they can do," Drew Digby, with the Flood Homes With Hope Campaign, said.

Digby said he and his team have helped 450 flood victims so far. Digby is still working with another 330 families to get financing squared away, but there's still a couple hundred families that don't know what they are going to do.

"In a lot of cases, it's really tough personal, financial decisions," Digby said. "For example, do you take a loan that's going to make you really under water on your home mortgage if you can get it repaired or do you walk away from your house?"

One of those people still undecided is Armas Koski.

"Been here so many years, 47 years," Koski said. "You kind of hate to go."

He's still looking for funding to fix his garage and driveway, and if he doesn't get it, he's not sure what he'll do. He is sure about one thing, if another flood rolls in he's not leaving.

"I'm going to stay put," Koski joked. "Go with the house if it flows down into Lake Superior. I'm going to stay with it; it's too much work to start going through the whole works again."

That work is what's still weighing on so many flood victims sometimes making moving forward even harder than the clean up.

If you want to help out, you can donate by visiting this Web site.

Thursday on Eyewitness News at 10 we take a closer look at how all this damage will affect smaller communities in the long run. Flooding will change the tax base drastically in places like Barnum and Moose Lake. Tune in tomorrow for that story.