Legislature quick with tornado relief

ST. PAUL (AP) — After tornado victims told of the widespread damage to their homes and communities, lawmakers moved quickly Monday to advance a $27.6 million tornado relief package.
The House unanimously passed the bill; the Senate is expected to take it up today and send it to Gov. Arne Carlson, who wanted a bill on his desk early this week so money could start flowing to the communities.
“The hearts of the people in this part of Minnesota have been very heavy,” said Rep. Ruth Johnson, DFL-St. Peter. “We will be years in the recovery from this disaster.”
On March 29, tornadoes heavily damaged parts of southern Minnesota. St. Peter and Comfrey were the hardest hit communities.
Earlier in the day, the House Ways and Means Committee heard from Loren Schumacher, who lost seven of 11 buildings on his Comfrey farm. The other four buildings also received extensive damage.
“It’s going to take years of building and rebuilding,” he said via interactive television. “We need help.”
Schumacher, a school board member, also pleaded for help rebuilding the community’s school. He called that a “real urgency” because it would restore a sense of normalcy.
“Whatever you could do to help us out there would be a real service,” he said.
But Schumacher said it would take much time and more than money to restore the southern Minnesota communities.
“What do you see as the top one or two things we could do?” asked House Majority Leader Ted Winter, DFL-Fulda.
Schumacher needs volunteer help in removing debris from the fields.
“There’s no machine that can do it; it’s all hard labor,” he said. “There’s so much out there it’s unbelievable.”
But Rep. Elaine Harder, R-Jackson, said although no machine could clean the fields, machines are needed to pick up the debris, which can be as big as an axle torn from a combine.
Lewis Giesking, director of public works in St. Peter, echoed Schumacher’s plea.
“The demolition and debris that we have to deal with is just massive,” he said.
Giesking said some 6,000 trees blew down, not including trees felled on private property.
“The tornado cut through the heart of our community,” Giesking said.
In other news related to the tornado’s aftermath, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman challenged St. Paul residents to help tornado victims by donating a dollar apiece to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Cash donations can be made at any Jeane Thorne Inc. office that has a Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund donation canister.