North Minneapolis tornado victims have been forgotten

Officials moved on, but neighborhood never got help

Today, the corner of Broadway and Penn avenues in the heart of north Minneapolis is a study in contrasts. Shrimp fly off the fryer and into hungry mouths on busy weekends at El Amin's Fish House, which has remained open since the May 22 tornado. But next door, Broadway Liquor Outlet is boarded up and covered with graffiti. All of the building's upstairs windows are broken, and the roof looks like bomb wreckage. Behind the liquor store, a head-high pile of rubble competes for attention with a solitary "Nice Ride" bicycle parking space.

The tornado that ravaged north Minneapolis six months ago was cruelly selective as it followed its diagonal northeasterly path of destruction. While some buildings were destroyed, others next door were left nearly untouched. The wind uprooted trees, tore roofs off homes, killed two residents, made thousands homeless, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of damage.

And the storm couldn't have chosen a more unfortunate place to wreak its havoc. North Minneapolis was already home to the city's most depressed and dangerous neighborhoods. In this largely African-American pocket, 31 percent of the 60,000 residents live in poverty, and nearly 80 percent receive assistance from Hennepin County.

Mark N. Kartarik
DeWayne Thornton and his family stayed in their home, which was condemned by the city even though it was structurally sound
Mark N. Kartarik
DeWayne Thornton and his family stayed in their home, which was condemned by the city even though it was structurally sound

The home foreclosure crisis following the 2008 economic recession disproportionately affected north Minneapolis, leaving empty homes. Those who rent often deal with inattentive or slum landlords.

These challenges add up to what local activists called the "storm before the storm" and made the destruction from the skies on that otherwise quiet Sunday in May a nearly insurmountable challenge to overcome.

To make matters worse, the twister that hit Joplin, Missouri, that same day overshadowed the damage in north Minneapolis—it killed 162 and was ruled the deadliest tornado nationwide in 60 years. The city of Minneapolis received no Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money from a national government obsessed with cutting budgets.

Here at home, local media focused briefly on the plight of north Minneapolis, but then quickly moved on to the state government shutdown, which began a month and a half after the storm and threatened to hinder the local government's response.

Once the city had cleared the streets of debris and moved those made homeless by the tornado into temporary shelters, the recovery effort began to creep forward. A coalition of 60 nonprofits and aid organizations formed the Northside Community Response Team (NCRT) to assess and target needs and distribute $1.3 million raised by the Minneapolis Foundation.

But by the end of the summer, most of that money was still sitting in church coffers and hadn't aided tornado victims.

Critics in north Minneapolis say the response by the city, Hennepin County, and NCRT was grossly ineffective. Victims were kept in overcrowded shelters for weeks after the storm; too many calls to the NCRT's aid hotline went unanswered; residents who flocked to a disaster recovery center encountered not food or hygienic necessities but informational brochures telling them where they could go downtown for help; orange "condemned" stickers were slapped liberally on doors of some homes that were still livable; mold grew on walls and ceilings of damaged homes that were still occupied, and tree stumps lingered on north Minneapolis streets, now naked to the sky above.

Meanwhile, the community itself stepped up to the plate. Activist Peter Kerre established the MplsTornado.info website and the "North Minneapolis Post Tornado watch" Facebook page, which served as a local resource for affected residents, matching particular needs with those who could solve them. He helped put the onus on companies such as Xcel Energy and Qwest Communications to restore electricity and phone service in north Minneapolis.

"The city was spending too much time telling the media how great the relief effort had been rather than focusing on the community," says Kerre. "They were only clearing debris but not focusing on humanitarian efforts. I wanted us first to focus on human life, before anything else."

Six months after the May 22 tornado, the lives of many north Minneapolis residents are still in disarray.

"They're trying to make us homeless."

DeWayne Thornton's block on Logan Avenue, just south of Lowry, was lush with foliage before the storm. Now it looks post-apocalyptic with the jagged skeletons of a few surviving trees pointing toward the open sky. Dark blue tarps flutter in the wind where damaged roofs haven't been fixed in advance of the coming winter, and the house just across the street was recently demolished, leaving a vacant lot.

Days after the tornado, the squat and powerfully built 41-year-old, who currently works as a forklift driver at King Solutions in the suburb of Dayton, says the city slapped an orange "condemned" sticker on his front door. The storm had blown out the master bedroom's windows and soaked everything, ripped shingles off the roof, and demolished his garage behind the house. But the structure of the house was sound, and after Thornton's landlord paid contractors to fix the windows and shingles, he expected the city to remove the orange sticker.

No one came. Thornton says he hasn't seen inspectors from the city visit his home since FEMA officially denied aid to north Minneapolis tornado victims on June 14. And so Thornton, his girlfriend, and their two children broke the law and stayed in the house, where they've lived ever since.

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26 comments
Roger
Roger

What a shame that the City of Mpls. continues to ignore North Mpls. After downtown Mpls., North Mpls. was the next place you'd want to live. My grandfather had his business in North Mpls for 40 yrs. He was an officier of 1st Mpls.Bank (now USBank) on Fremont and Bdwy. He was a personal friend of Theodor Wirth (Wirth Park). He raised his 2 daughters in North Mpls. My father had his business in North Mpls. for 40 yrs. He was a officier of the American Legion on Penn and Bdwy. for 46 yrs. I had my 1st job at Thriftway, on Bdwy. North Mpls. was the place to shop if you didn't want to go downtown Mpls. North Commons park was the main event for 4th of July, put on by the American Legion. North Mpls. was a very classy region of Mpls. For some reason downtown decided to let this area of the city go in the S--Can. Funny how some areas of Mpls. have always prospered yet No. Mpls. was ignored, once again. Shame on you for continuing to fester this wound.

mark lowry
mark lowry

I didn't get past the sub title "six months after the tornado, north Minneapolis residents still haven't gotten help" and I was ticked off. Remember Katrina, people sitting on their roofs with signs that read "save us"? If you sit on your rear and wait for someone to help you, one might expect to wait a long time... Get off your rear and help your self!

luvnomi
luvnomi

The common thread here is the slum lords. Good riddence. As for the immediate evacuation of apartment buildings by the police...sounds like the tornado was welcome by the city planners.

Donald Allen
Donald Allen

This article is on point! Please read the bogus report given to the Minneapolis Foundation by the Northside Community Response Team on what they say has happened here >Google Docs:https://docs.google.com/viewer....

Secondly, why are there more than 50+ homes still with tarps on them. See the Minneapolis Foundation's report on who got money and what they should of done: http://www.minneapolisfoundati...

Yes, there was a storm in north Minneapolis long before the tornado and one currently that shows benign neglect.

Ibfree2k
Ibfree2k

There are folks always living on the edge, and always falling over it: The notion that these folks are forgotten or left behind is the same old worn out refrain from some folks that we aren't doing enough, for them, we will never do enough, nor can we to make those folks happy, yes the word "Never" is accurate, and where are these folks? Helping all these poor unfortunates or just griping about them? What the writer does not recognize is all the houses/families that did get help, new roofs, fences, paint, siding, garages, how many families took advantage of the situation and added living space to their damaged homes! What the writer didn't say was, 1000's of volunteers combed the neighborhood on multiple occasions cleaning up debris and knocking on every door multiple times. We had city, community, county, Federal, state and numerous non-profits to help, because a few souls didn't get saved, or qualify, it is not a failure! They would have the taxpayers write checks for all no matter the situation. Perhaps from time to time it would be worthwhile to focus on the success, of those that did have insurance, they did think ahead, they were prepared, and that should be the model to others, living on the edge has its consequences, and sometimes they can be severe. Looking for a scape goat, try mother nature, or try foolish assumptions that folks make, "it will never happen to me" and when it does blame others for their misfortune, but never take their advice. I am in agreement with Jeff (Its a very disappointing article) Yes, I live in the T-Zone.

Jeff Skrenes
Jeff Skrenes

I'm disappointed with the reporting here. I'm not going to say the city has been perfect because obviously there are goals they haven't met. "The City" in general gets mentioned as a culprit, but there seems to be little here to indicate an attempt to reach anyone who specifically works on the tornado response effort.

Furthermore, at least one or two landlords are specifically described as being "delinquent" or inadequate in their response to the tornado. Yet those landlords aren't named either. The folks whose suffering is chronicled here have legitimate concerns with both their landlords and the city; I don't discount that at all. But this story feels like it was written with the goal of taking a swipe at established powers as a priority over telling the whole story.

Robyn
Robyn

What a powerful story. Why has there been so little media coverage on the continued efforts to recover from the tornado? For such a great state, it is a shame we are have our resources so disproportionately dispersed, in favor of those that already have privilege. We need some real change to happen.

HurdyGurdy
HurdyGurdy

Well, it doesn't really matter what they should have done; that's besides the point. We can play that game all day long: They should have lived in a different area, they should have studied meteorology and learned to predict tornadoes better - give me a break already. These are people that need help now, not advice for when they start time traveling. Mistakes (if they were even made) should not be punished for a lifetime, and the children of North Minneapolis shouldn't be homeless and hungry because their parents are in a desperate situation. Blaming the victim is a great way to hide personal guilt and responsibility, but it doesn't do anything for our society.

Guest
Guest

How would renters insurance matter? If you were simply renting, move on.Now if you owned the home and had homeowners insurance, that would certainly help. Not having homeowners insurance is a pretty stupid move.

Guest
Guest

How many of these renters had renters insurance? It's unfortunate what happened but when you prepare before the disaster it makes things much easier to handle afterwards.

Guest
Guest

Look into Katrina a little more. Good hardworking people own cars and can and deserve to drive away from disasters. The rest, that is people who were not stranded on their roof tops waving sings like lazy bums because they didnt want to swim with their children and elders through the swamp of toxic human waste, went to the Metrodome and were left there without food and water, sitting comfortably on their rear in the Louisiana sun just waiting for someone else to do something. Those who tried to walk out of the city, those without children or elders, were turned back at gun point.CBS has a whole story about the Gretna bridge. Dont take my word for it, check it out yourself. Dont sit on your rear and listen to everything the radio says, get off your rear and educate yourself. I hope God spares you the suffering of having everything destroyed and then having others criticize you for your actions during a time of crisis. It's called solidarity, not charity.

mark lowry
mark lowry

Why don't the people who need help, help each other? Why the expectation for someone else to step in and fix their problems?

mark lowry
mark lowry

People in a desperate situation shouldn't continue to have children. Neighbors should help neighbors. You can't knock on "societies'" door and offer to help them in trade for helping you. Darwin fixed this type of behavior before society.

Guest
Guest

So, we should just give these people things? If that was the case, why should anyone plan ahead and buy insurance? Lets reward stupidity?

Michele
Michele

Some of these North Side residents live from paycheck to paycheck. They cannot afford renters insurance. Part of being a good human being is helpin your fellow man, some where along the way we have forgotten that. If you pay taxes as I'm sure he does, he should be able to get help, or what do we as citizens pay taxes for???

retail employee
retail employee

Not many people think to get it. Perhaps raising awareness for renters would help in the future. Right now it's rather irrelevant because they need help now.

Research
Research

Agreed but renters insurance only covers the things you have. What good are those things without a place to put them?

mark lowry
mark lowry

I don't think I need to look into it...I'm already off my rear, working 3 part time jobs, going to school, taking care of my kids, etc. I don't buy the god thing and if you do, we're all better off dead and with god anyway. Personally, I believe the Darwin thing, and if "society" didn't make it so easy for people to not take care of themselves, the gene pool would have already been relieved of their presence. I'm sure that sounds cold and callous and it is, as is life and reality after there is no one left to pick up the piece for you...there is just you.

guest
guest

I like how helping someone who went through a tragedy turns into "giving someone a handout." The greed and the excuses people make to not help someone out is disgusting. YUCK.

Guest
Guest

Renter's insurance is cheap and shouldn't be optional.

Optional is internet, cell phones & cable TV.

Guest
Guest

Most of these stories are people renting and complaining that the landlord won't repair. If they had renters insurance, they can get coverage for temporary housing and then get out of the area.

The other home owners like the Porters should have had better Home owners coverage. They probably wnet for the cheapest coverage and now they complain that the government won't help them.

Gronchbove
Gronchbove

In any other country in the world, the people must fend for themselves. In the Greek - Roman - British - American world, the government takes everything people own and then tells us we must "ask their permission to live." Permit to paint, permit to burn trash, permit to drive, forced to buy insurance, forced to buy health care - most people are out of money. Mr. Mark Lowry, can you out-run or out-drive a tornado? A real community "works" together to solve problems. When an Edina resident has a hang nail, the chief of police calls an emergency. When a tornado destroys North Minneapolis, the police go to their homes in Edina and ignore the community they are paid to serve. Plenty of people in North Minneapolis work three part-time jobs, the majority are middle class. Remember, Mark Lowry, in the Christian-American society, the poor, hard-working bail out the wealthy bankers. Don't you think that is as bad as a crime as the destruction of North Minneapolis?

Mark Lowry
Mark Lowry

I'm not bitter, it sounds like you are making assumptions. I don't think the people who know me would consider me "small." I can be very generous and helpful to my friends and family. Your take on evolution and survival are very different from mine. Sometimes a limb must be sacrificed to save the body as it were. Not every life is worthy...Some people are such a detriment to society that they should be eliminated. Some contribute so little they should simply be allowed to fend for themselves. Like a parent sometimes must stop bailing out their child when they get in trouble, or a spouse needs to stop enabling an alcoholic wife or husband. To realize...reality...is not the same as being without compassion.

Susan
Susan

I feel sorry for you - you sound like a bitter, small man. We are social animals, and we survive by helping each other. That's our evolutionary adaptation. You sound like you may have stayed back in the ocean while the rest of us learned to walk. The hatred of those less fortunate than ourselves is usually a fear response, anyway - you're afraid to admit that your existence can be ruined in a single stroke because people like you have destroyed the social safety net in this country.

Spencer
Spencer

Many did not have insurance, some were underinsured, others had problems with insurance companies. My family did ok, but we were out a deductible and had to pay for repairs and additional living expenses up front. We didn't lose a vehicle, but many did. Who is going to keep full coverage on an old car?

I could go on and on. Its easy to look in from the outside and claim that people don't deserve any help, but shame on you if you do. This is hardly a situation to be judged from a quick look. Come to North Minneapolis and learn what is going on. Even people with good jobs, good insurance, and who were right on top of rebuilding are still struggling with insurance, inspectors, and contractors. Imagine how hard hit the less prepared people were.

 
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