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AUSTIN EDITION - Flood volunteers

By Jim Troyer

*ews@postbulletin.com

Austin's Christ Episcopal Church sounded like a combat operations center Saturday morning as recruits poured in to help fight the flood of 2004.

Lavona Johnson greeted them with a form to fill out and a purple "Community Volunteer" bracelet from Lutheran Disaster Response.

"Don't laugh," she said. "It tells people you're not a looter." Then it was on to an orientation session in the chapel and assignments. The church serves as headquarters for Interfaith Disaster Response.

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At Day 11 of the flood recovery effort, the drill had become routine: "Drain, Drag, Demolish and Disinfect." Weapons included shovels, buckets, brooms, mops and, for the lucky ones, power sprayers. Manpower made the difference.

Emptying a truck and trailer of 350 cartons of bottled water was as simple as sending nine of the 200 eager volunteers to the neighboring United Methodist Church. In 20 minutes, the cartons were stacked and ready to follow work crews around a three-county area. United Methodist Pastor Jim Peck had 600 bagged lunches that had been set up by 30 volunteers the night before.

"Having lunches ready for the volunteers saves time at the work site," he said.

Hormel Foods Corp., Hy-Vee Foods and Arby's donated the food. The water came from a less likely source: Workers found themselves drinking from bottles labeled "Sno-Baron's Snowmobile Club," an organization in Columbus Township, north of Anoka.

Just after Labor Day each year, Randy Rolstad said, the club hosts "the world's largest grass drag and swap meet" for snowmobilers. The event attracted 31,000 people, but there were still 7,800 bottles of water left over. It took a truck and a trailer to get it all here, he said.

Back at Christ Episcopal, individuals and groups were still lining up for assignments at 9:30 a.m. The crowd included 25 young members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, missionaries doing two years of service in southern Minnesota. "When we see a need, we just want to jump in and help," said Sister Ethington.

Most groups were smaller.

A group of six Lyle residents was ready to head out to a flood location just north of Austin. Another group had formed for assignment to Hollandale. They came from Owatonna, Oakdale and Buffalo. "I didn't know Hollandale existed," said one.

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One of the flood battles of 2004 has been playing out in the parking lot of Jim's SuperValu Foods in Austin. On Saturday, workers were using three power sprayers to blast a stubborn coat of clay off of shelving. Their compressors made conversation outside impossible.

It was quieter inside but just as busy. Eleven members of Austin High School's Youth Leadership Club, which seeks opportunities for community service, were lined up in front of the store's dairy case, singing as they scrubbed. Another group cleaned shelves in the aisles.

"Oh, yuck!" said a co-ed.

"This is their idea," said adviser and teacher Susan Stevenson. "They wanted to know what they could do to help."

Behind the store, John Kuhne and his son, Mitch, of Roseville and Dean Maddock of Austin were cleaning up the loading dock, which had become a snare for flood debris.

Kuhne said he heard about Austin's need for volunteers through an e-mail from United Way. "Mitch and I try to do something together on weekends," he said. "We thought we'd come down here."

Maddock, whose own home a couple of blocks away escaped flood damage, was impressed. "I think it's neat that you guys from the city come down and help out," he said.

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