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County resources busy in Hugo

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Woodbury, 55125
Woodbury Bulletin
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It's been just more than a week since a tornado ravaged dozens of homes in the northern portion of Washington County. The city of Hugo took the brunt of the damage from the May 25 storm as more than 50 homes were destroyed or deemed uninhabitable. With that, Washington County officials have been busy at work providing resources as needed.

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"It's been pretty much a full-fledged effort by the county to help out with whatever we can," said Molly O'Rourke, assistant county administrator, who headed out to Hugo the Monday after the storm with a communications team to help the city get out pertinent information to the media about the damage and the aftermath surrounding the cleanup and assistance efforts.

Dozens of county employees from nearly every department assisted with the aftermath and continue to do so as requested by Hugo city officials, O'Rourke said.

The county's sheriff's office dedicated much of its resources in the initial response to the storm and has since then been using a combination of sheriff's deputies and reserve officers to help with aid and patrol efforts.

"We even had our corrections officers with our sentence-to-serve crews out there helping to clean up debris," O'Rourke said. "Whatever Hugo has asked of us we've done our best to provide."

Other staff called to assist the community came from the county's information technology, public works and public health departments.

'State of emergency' declared

At its Tuesday, June 3 meeting the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted to adopt a resolution to declare an official state of emergency for the area hit by the May 25 storm. Although the county has already acted in that fashion since the storm hit, the resolution, according to county administrator Jim Schug, will allow department heads continue to do use county resources to assist the community in coming weeks of the recovery effort.

Schug said the cooperation between levels of government proved effective.

"The public safety response by the city, county and surrounding communities has been just phenomenal," Schug said.

The city of Hugo and state declared a state of emergency within hours of the storm.

O'Rourke said the county has its own emergency response plan for disasters, but in situations like the Memorial Day weekend storm, defers to the local governments before stepping in.

The county sheriff's office provided immediate emergency assistance during and immediately after the storm, as the city of Hugo contracts its public safety services with the county, but other help was provided as requested, O'Rourke said.

"Each city is supposed to have its own emergency response plan for disasters, but we are ready to help with all sorts of services as needed," she said.

Currently, county financial services staff are on the ground helping residents with damaged or destroyed homes go through the process of tracking their losses.

The county also has a community services department that has been assisting families with determining their long-term housing needs.

The cleanup process is ongoing, but much help was received Saturday when Hugo city officials organized a volunteer cleanup effort that saw more than 1,000 people turn up.

County commissioner and board chairman Dennis Hegberg said the volunteer response in the hours and days after the storm was overwhelming.

"The volunteerism aspect was incredible," Hegberg said. "Folks really came together to bring food and help clean up, it was really encouraging."

But O'Rourke said the county knows much work is left to be done in the coming weeks.

"This is definitely an ongoing process for the county and something the community will be dealing with for much longer," she said.

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