OPINION | One year later: Recovery from the tornado and its massive impact continues

Many folks couldn’t get out or into their homes after the tornado. (Photo by Marky Wagner)

We are nearing the one year anniversary of the tornado. Simply said, we are not the same. Our community has been changed by a force of nature that one would not have expected to encounter in the heart of the city. But I believe we have heart, and the implications of the tornado and our recovery are not yet fully known.  Here’s some of what is known.

The May 22, 2011 tornado damaged 3,700 properties, and two people, David Whitfield and Rob McIntyre, lost their lives in the tornado and its aftermath. The tornado destroyed 2,400 boulevard trees and 3,425 park trees in Wirth, Folwell, Webber and North Mississippi Regional Parks;  a span of 3.5 miles. In addition to the arbor losses, the Minneapolis Parks sustained property damages at Wirth Beach, Wirth Golf Course, Willard Park building, Webber Park Recreation Center and pool building, and a shelter at Folwell Park. In all, the cost of damages sustained by the Minneapolis Parks was over $525,000 dollars. On the upside the Park Board, with the help of volunteers, planted 275 trees in Folwell Park last fall, and has started the planting of 3,100 more trees in parks and on boulevards in North Minneapolis.  Additionally, in a collaboration between the City of Minneapolis, the Tree Trust, the Minneapolis Park Board and State Farm Insurance, another 400 free trees were available for individuals who lost trees. Many of these are ornamental flowering trees, provided by an anonymous $50,000 gift to the Rob McIntyre Fund at Tree Trust.

A view of one alley after the tornado last May. Next to the car a garage was blown to bits (Photo by Marky Wagner)

The City of Minneapolis has issued 2,847 repair permits and approximately $28 million dollars have been spent on property reparations. Of the 3700 damaged properties, 206 properties sustained major damage and 192 of those properties have been repaired, demolished, or the work is pending.  The City of Minneapolis has issued property orders to 1,029 properties and of those, 823 have been resolved. Additionally, 160 households received more than $750,000 in loans and free assistance, which helped repair 50 roofs.  The City of Minneapolis’ Business Recovery Loan Program has made $117,000 in loans to 27 businesses. In all, about $1.9 million in assistance has been provided to those affected by the tornado through loans, Minneapolis City assistance, state and federal dollars, and the assistance of non-profit organizations that have worked with the recovery efforts. Perhaps the most remarkable numbers are those attributed to the people and the hours of selfless service they have given to the recovery efforts. Those numbers are immeasurable. Yet 113 properties still have roof damage.

Left: Siding from someone’s home still lies in North Mississippi Regional Park (Photo by Donna Seline)

And that is the paradox of this storm event. A walk through the affected areas reveals homes beautifully rebuilt next to houses that look like the storm ravaged them yesterday. Fortunately the number of these houses and businesses are diminishing, but they are reminders of the work yet to be done. Talking to people still in the midst of their own storm recovery efforts, I am reminded that there is a continued need to be a supportive neighbor. I am amazed at the resilience of people whose homes and businesses were damaged by the storms. I spoke recently with a young woman named Kenzi. She and her family moved back into their home in the early fall, but had to move out again, because the repairs were inadequate. Fortunately they were home by Christmas. She has managed to keep a cheerful spirit through all of this and will be graduating from the Patrick Henry IB program in one month.  Another young woman named Alex, is looking forward to moving back home soon.  She said it has been easier for her than others in her family, because she was a freshman at college this past year and lived in a dormitory. Her house had to be rebuilt from the ground up and they are looking forward to moving into their new home in June. The smile never left her face as she told me her story. One week shy of 11 months after the tornado, the Banana Blossom Restaurant reopened on Lowry Avenue. The owners endured many setbacks, but finally reopened, much to my delight! In the words of Darren Baumgartner, the food is still “beau-delicious.”

May 22 is fast approaching and I’m guessing that most of us in North Minneapolis know exactly where we were at a little past 2 p.m. on that same date a year ago. Now is a good time to think about what you will be doing on that date this year. It might be a good day to get together with neighbors and share stories. Or patronize a business that has recently reopened. Or plant a tree. The recovery continues. Keep strong and keep heart.

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