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After the flood, a fire in Waterville

Residents of apartments destroyed in a fire of the historic Rogers building in downtown Waterville, looking on as firefighters prepare to pull down the remnants of the building Thursday. The Red Cross was assisting families who have been displaced. The fire comes as Waterville residents have already been dealing with significant flood damage.

WATERVILLE, Minn. — A relentless flood and a blazing fire. Neither stand a chance against a community that will not back down.

Waterville residents are standing together after a second disaster to befall their town displaced 15 more people.

Fire struck the historic Rogers building early Thursday, gutting the building. As excavators pushed in the more than 100-year-old structure to keep it from collapsing outward, surely residents had to be wondering, "Why us?"

Waterville Mayor Stephen Mihalik said it is devastating to see a second disaster strike right as they start to recover from the first. A number of families have been displaced by recent flooding. Last month's flood affected 20 percent of the city.

"The physical recovery from one tragedy, and the physical recovery of a second, won't outweigh the emotional recovery that is going to be needed," he said. He added that the community has been coming together since the flood began.


"When I say community, I am not just talking about Waterville," he said. "I'm talking about everyone in the surrounding areas."

The best way to overcome the emotional toll is to lean on one another, Mihalik said.

Karen Dahl, a Waterville resident, and her family took some serious precautions to prevent flood damage this year.

"We were one of the first houses to flood four years ago, and we lost all of our stuff in our basement," she said.

So the Dahls decided to do something about it. After more than $30,000 of work, they raised their yard nearly three feet and put in a retaining wall.

And although her house didn't flood this time around, she didn't think twice before lending a hand to others whose homes were at risk.

"The school superintendent sent out a voicemail message to everyone in Waterville looking for volunteers to help with sandbagging," she said.

She said the turnout was amazing, and it truly shows how close the community is.


Dahl feels awful for the firefighters because not long after their sandbagging operations ended, the main street blaze began.

Mihalik said the firefighters have been rested but have had a very busy couple of weeks.

"Throughout the last two weeks, our firefighters have been working diligently day and night, not just because it's their job, but because they're citizens of this community," he said.

Waterville Fire Chief Chris Meskan said the fire department was extremely busy throughout the flood.

"(It was) very long hours, many went on just a few hours of a sleep a day," he said. "We're a small town, but everyone will continue to rally together. Businesses and restaurants were checking on us frequently to make sure we were hydrated and fed."

Mihalik said the preliminary estimates of the flood damage range from $3 million to $12 million.

Jack Blackmer works for the Red Cross and was in Waterville for both the flood and the fire. He said the flooding displaced more than 20 families.

"It wasn't necessarily because their houses were damaged, but because they couldn't get to their houses," he said. He added that the majority of the families were able to stay with friends or family members.


Beverley Brown-Nelson is the owner of the ministry outreach shop in the Rogers building, which was torn down Thursday as a result of the fire. She said because of these two disasters, the community, more than ever, needs to continue to stay strong.

"We are loving one another, we are coming together as we are supposed to," she said. "We're reaching out to each other, and we are loving each other."

Brown-Nelson said the town will rebound, and when it does, the residents will be stronger than ever.

When asked if anything can weigh down the city of Waterville, Dahl said,"I don't think so, but we don't want to try. This is enough," she laughed. "It's a really tight community, and I am so thankful to be a part of it."

Fire crews from several departments battle a blaze at several buildings in downtown Waterville Thursday morning.

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