GRANITE FALLS (AP) -- Federal purse strings are loosening, there's talk of state relief on the way, private donations are surging toward six figures and volunteers have flocked in to help tornado victims in this southwestern Minnesota city.
But it's the $56.33 from an Elk River boy that has Mayor David Smiglewski talking.
Tray Gust had seen the results of the July 25 tornado on the news, and felt compelled to do something. "This is his life savings from birthday money and communion money," said an attached note.
"That's darn special," Smiglewski said in announcing the contribution on Monday. "We're going to find him and send him a note of thanks."
All kinds of opportunities have been opening up for residents of Granite Falls to rebuild their lives after the F-4 tornado, with winds estimated over 200 miles per hour, did more than $15 million worth of damage in a matter of minutes.
People whose homes or businesses sustained damage can now apply for federal disaster loans. The loans, the primary source of aid for those who lost property in the storm, became available after President Clinton declared Yellow Medicine County, which includes Granite Falls, a disaster area.
The loans go up to $200,000 to repair homes and up to $40,000 to replace personal property. Businesses and nonprofit organizations are eligible for loans of up to $1.5 million to repair damage to real estate, machinery and equipment. Business owners who suffer economic losses from the storm also can apply for loans.
Interest rates on the loans can be as low as 3.7 percent for homeowners and renters and 4 percent for businesses. Terms can be up to 30 years.
James Lee Witt, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will be in Granite Falls on Wednesday to view tornado damage. Meanwhile, FEMA plans to set up an office in Yellow Medicine East High School in Granite Falls later this week.
State leaders are certain that some kind of funding will come out of the Legislature.
"I fully expect that the Minnesota Legislature will be facing a number of issues as a result of this tragedy," House Minority Leader Thomas Pugh, DFL-St. Paul, said after touring the site. Pugh said the city deserves state money because it will lose property tax revenue, while paying for the cost of cleaning up and restoring operations.
Meanwhile, private donations were expected to top $100,000. Smiglewski said cash donations made to the tornado fund totaled at least $89,000 by Monday. More than $10,000 in checks also had been received at City Hall but not yet added to the total, Smiglewski said.
The cash donations made to Granite Falls Tornado Fund are owned by the city and are tax-deductible for donors. A committee of bank and city officials will oversee the fund. The committee will decide how the donated money will be used.
Along with the cash contributions, the city has been receiving truckloads of supplies from organizations and businesses. Those items are being distributed by volunteer-operated centers in the community.
"This is the best disaster I've been to," said Capt. Monty Wandling of the Salvation Army by way of praising the efficiency of the volunteer efforts.
Until a few days ago, Jammie Balfany thought she had her hands full just taking care of her three young children, ages 3 months to four years.
Now she's in charge of a store-sized clothing distribution center, making sure donated clothing gets to people who crawled out of the rubble of their homes with only what they were wearing.
"We need shoes," she said. "Lots of people still need shoes."
At Granite Falls Lutheran Church, which has been a central site in relief efforts, donated food is piling up in the basement. Kaye Thorkelson, an organizer of the meal site at the church, said food comes from all over the state.
"One lady brought hotdishes from all over from Minneapolis," Thorkelson said.
Since Wednesday, the church has been serving hot meals for 1,000 people a day on average.
Volunteer coordinator Karen Jacobson said several thousands of volunteers have come from all over to help clear the roads and debris from the hardest hit areas. About 3,000 volunteers donated their time and labor on Saturday alone.
She said cleanup work has been almost completed, although some debris remains in branches.
To provide goods or volunteer to help in any way, call the Yellow Medicine County Sheriff's Office at 320-564-2130, City Hall at 320-564-3011, or the Kilowatt Community Center at 320-564-3127.
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