On many blocks that were in the path of the tornado that plowed across North Minneapolis on May 22, 2011, there are few signs of the storm’s destruction.
Instead, there are rebuilt homes, new roofs and growing trees that replaced the thousands that were toppled.
A closer look, though, reveals scars still visible 29 months after the tornado, packing 125-mph winds, bisected the neighborhood from the southwest to the northeast.
There are vacant lots where homes once stood. Damaged trees still loom precariously in some yards. And the city still is dealing with 234 damaged, abandoned or condemned properties across the area, according to a report released last week by the Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department.
The city is taking steps to resolve those issues, says City Council President Barbara Johnson, whose 4th Ward includes part of the tornado zone.
The city will trim or remove heavily damaged trees on private property where owners “either have no money or don’t care” about the problem, she says.
In general, Johnson is pleased with rebuilding efforts and the city’s “substantial investment” them. “You can feel, as I do as I drive around, that things look better,” she says. “I’m really pleased with how some of the blocks have come back.”
The process of identifying owners and buying or condemning “eyesore” properties, Johnson says, is bureaucratic “paper jungle” that inevitably takes time.
North Minneapolis residents, she says, “pulled together” and “are really proud of how things look.”
Working together to spur the rebound, Johnson says, “definitely brought people together.”
Maybe so, says Mary Peters, whose rental house was damaged by the storm, but the neighborhood still has problems that were not caused by the tornado.
“We’re still perceived as a high-crime area,” she says, “and so many people pass through here, renting for a short time and then moving on, that there isn’t really a strong sense of community.”
Lisa Dunlap, who lives and works in North Minneapolis, says “there’s still some struggle” in the neighborhood, but she hopes that the shared – and ongoing – recovery process “is building relationships and trust.”
The Sanctuary Covenant Church became a hub of relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of the tornado and for weeks afterward.
People and companies dropped off water, food and other supplies at the church. The church, like the rest of the neighborhood, had no power, so it set up a row of grills outside and prepared food.
Church members knocked on doors in the area to check on residents and continued to visit the elderly and the ill to make sure they were OK in the days that followed.
Humanity and generosity, says church Elder Mark Aamot, “definitely came out in the wake of the tornado.”
So did the uglier side of humanity. Someone broke into the church one night and stole office items.
Church office manager Cheryl Anderson says she’s still in touch with some of the people she met because of the tornado. “It brought us outside our building and into the community,” she says.
Both Anderson and Aamot live in the area targeted by the storm. Neither thinks their neighborhood is fully recovered.
“There were issues in North Minneapolis before the tornado and the tornado exacerbated them,” Aamot says. There’s less housing stock, he says, and higher rents in the properties that remain.
There are squatters in some tornado-damaged buildings that are boarded up and unsafe for occupancy, he says. For some of those people, homelessness might be the only other option. “Some kind of roof is better than no roof,” he adds.
City analyses conducted after the tornado found that more than three-quarters of people affected by the tornado were receiving public assistance.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency twice denied Minnesota’s request for disaster aid for homeowners, renters and businesses. But President Obama declared disasters in Hennepin and Anoka counties, authorizing federal aid to help repair $16 million in infrastructure damage.
Local agencies, including the Greater Twin Cities United Way, GiveMN.org and the Minneapolis Foundation, raised recovery funds for residents. The city distributed assistance funds and loans and the Small Business Administration offered low-interest loans.
Retiree Jerry Johnson lost a tree to the tornado but his house was undamaged. He has lived in North Minneapolis for almost 25 years and says it has become more diverse, but he’s close to neighbors who also have made it home for decades.
“It’s changing,” he says, “but it’s still quiet. It’s a great neighborhood.”
Despite the area’s old challenges and the new ones created by the tornado, Aamot agrees.
“There are people in North Minneapolis who never make the 10 o’clock news that work and raise their families that are great people,” he says. “They are the core of this community.”