Residents unite to begin rebuilding Houghton County

HOUGHTON — While government officials are putting the pieces in place to move forward after the weekend’s storm, many community members have stepped up to the plate and asked “what can I do to help?”

“We’ve had mass devastation in our communities. We’re assessing each situation as we go. We’ve had many road closures, we’ve had washouts, we’ve lost homes, and business. We need to make our community safe right now.” said Lieutenant Nick Roberts of the Houghton Police Department.

Live music, games, charitable events, and fire works were part of the scene Saturday evening at Kestner park as folks came from all over to enjoy Bridgefest. Within a matter of hours the landscape throughout the Keweenaw had changed drastically as flash floods have wiped out roads, buildings, and transformed the Portage Canal into a gigantic mud puddle.

“Our Federal partners are here today looking at the site across Houghton County. We need their help. We need federal money to help us here to assist these projects. In the background here we have a road that’s destroyed. This is just one example of many in Houghton County.” Said State Representative Scott Dianda.

Representative Dianda is urging the state to declare Houghton county as a state of emergency, which will ensure federal funding for repairs.

“The damage, we have a low estimate of just the city of Houghton alone is over 20 million dollars just to fix some of these roads up. We start looking across the county with the road commissions, we’re probably looking at three to four times that amount of money.” Diana added.

Today holds an opportunity to assess the situation that Mother Nature dumped on us here yesterday and this is about making sure that, number one, the people up here in Houghton and the Keweenaw know that everybody, weather it be the local officials, the state officials, or the federal government is committed to making sure that we mitigate all of the negatives caused by the torrential downpour,” said State Representative Jack Bergman.

While Diana, Bergman and Governor Snyder are working on the political side of rebuilding, residents and good samaritans in these communities are showing their true colors, as crews and volunteers work to clean up rubble and debris and begin to rebuild.

“Just like everybody in the community we were just watching the devastation yesterday and thinking “Man, where do we get started? What do we do? How do we help? I just stopped by the city center this morning and saw Julie Warra and said ‘Hey Lets meet up at Veterans Park at 10:00 and start walking the streets and cleaning up,’ so that’s what we’re doing.” Said Aaron Gehrke, Pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Lutheran Church, in Houghton.

This group of volunteers spent the morning sweeping and shoveling the sidewalks of Sheldon avenue. Many of them have traveled quite way to get here.

“Our church is in partnership with a summer bible camp called the Keweenaw Base Camp out in Atlantic Mine. They have a group from central Wisconsin right now. That group of high school students is out here right now helping clean up our town as they’re loving our area.” Said Gehrke.

“They’re coming out to help clean up and assist the villages in the county to be able to clean up this mess. So it’s nice to see we’ve got these young folks here today to help us out.” Diana Stated.

“People are calling, they want to donate money, they want to donate food. So we are coming up with websites as I speak now for people to do that also. So those are what you can do to help us out.” Lt. Roberts added.

One way people can help is by respecting restricted areas.

“We’ve had a lot of problems with people crossing our safe areas or barricades. Please don’t do that. That’s an unsafe area. They are there for a reason and that’s keeping us from doing our jobs. If I have to come and kick somebody out of our safe zone that’s keeping me from doing something else more important for our emergency services. So don’t do it. We need to concentrate on the people of our community right now. We need to make sure that people are getting out of their homes safely or getting across the road safely and we can’t do that if we’re constantly having to chase people out of these areas. I understand people are curious, they want to know what’s going on. Check with your news media, watch the news, the TV . Get your information that way. Those are the safe ways to do it.”  Roberts stated.

“This was a disaster. This was an act of God if you will, when you think of weather. But we’re Yoopers. We’re resilient. We will pull together just like I’ve seen the agencies doing here today. We’re together in this. Everybody’s coordinating so everybody needs to step up in some way to help out their neighbors, help out their friends who maybe got it a little worse than they did so help other people out,” Congressman Bergman added.

Donations can be made at Superior National Bank, Portage Health Foundation and at local churches, fire and police departments.

“Where ever you are, whatever neighborhood you’re in, start there. Check on your neighbors. Care for them. Love them, do whatever you can. We just wanted to get our hands and feet dirty. That’s what Jesus would do, So that’s what we’re doing.” Said Pastor Gehrke.