North Minneapolis tornado victims have been forgotten

Officials moved on, but neighborhood never got help

"They're trying to make us homeless when we don't have to be homeless," says Thornton, who refused to take his family to an overcrowded shelter after the storm.

Thornton also knew that the orange sticker on his front door was a beacon to looters, who in the days after the storm stole an air conditioner from the house across the street. From other damaged homes, thieves made off with televisions, computers, and other valuable property.

Not until September did the streetlights on Thornton's block of Logan Avenue return (before the tornado there were six; now there are three). All summer he worried about his children and girlfriend walking outside at night.

Natasha Mitchell's home was damaged so badly that she was forced to move to Robbinsdale
Mark N. Kartarik
Natasha Mitchell's home was damaged so badly that she was forced to move to Robbinsdale
Anthony Strong and his wife, Shemeika, were forced out of their home by police after a liquor store was raided nearby
Mark N. Kartarik
Anthony Strong and his wife, Shemeika, were forced out of their home by police after a liquor store was raided nearby

"On the North Side there's always the potential for danger," he warns with a serious stare. "The devil is still after us."

"Life isn't easy, but my kids keep me going."

Natasha Mitchell has not been as fortunate as Thornton. The cozy home she rented on the 4000 block of Colfax Avenue, which was set off the street and featured a tree-filled front yard, was hit so hard by the storm and subsequent rains that water seemed to penetrate every corner of the house. Soon the mold took over and exacerbated her already poor health.

Mitchell, 38, suffers from lupus, spinalstenosis, and arthritis, which have made her unable to work for over a year: Her last job was at the makeup counter at Macy's in Brookdale. After the tornado, her doctor found a blue lining on the inside of her nose, likely caused by the mold in the house. He encouraged Mitchell and her two children to leave immediately, but they had nowhere to go. Instead they threw away their mattresses and anything damaged by mold.

Despite the extensive damage, Mitchell's landlord played hardball and continued to charge her rent. Meanwhile, a Hennepin County sheriff posted notice that she had to vacate the house on Colfax, but Mitchell wasn't willing to move into a shelter because of her health conditions.

When the landlord took her to court, Mitchell sought out Drew Schaffer at the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis for help. Natasha's problems with the landlord ultimately helped her acquire a tornado displacement voucher, though she wasn't able to find any more Section 8 housing in north Minneapolis, so she settled for a home in Robbinsdale.

"I left my comfort zone, and my friends and neighbors who look out for me," Mitchell sighs.

She sleeps on a mattress in the living room, where bottles of pills line the floor in front of her. She estimates she takes 50 different kinds of medication, and some days she doesn't even have the energy to venture outside.

"Life isn't easy, but my kids keep me going," Mitchell says as she forces a weak smile. "If it weren't for those two, I don't know how I'd make it. I should be taking care of them, not them taking care of me."

Her 11-year-old son Philip and 9-year-old daughter Kemya are both in school, though she can tell they've struggled to stay focused since the tornado. Philip has developed ADHD, and Kemya was recently suspended for fighting with the principal.

"I see a difference in them this school year," says Mitchell, citing the trauma of the tornado and the move from their familiar neighborhood. "They don't say it, but I can tell they are struggling."

"You can't eat a bus card."

The tornado damaged the buildings on either side of Anthony and Shemeika Strong's apartment building much worse than it did their home. A few bricks peeled off the east wall, and several windows shattered, but their own apartment on the second floor suffered no harm.

Anthony believes that the looting of the Broadway Liquor Outlet six blocks away on the corner of Broadway and Penn, just 10 minutes after the storm—together with allegations of gang activity next to his building—prompted Minneapolis police to forcibly vacate the apartment buildings after the tornado.

A police spokeswoman confirms that officers were given orders to evacuate all three buildings, where they found fallen bricks, glass, tree limbs, separated window casements, and "occupants partying and barbecuing in front of the building." The residents of 2509 Golden Valley didn't want to leave, and they argued with the officers. Some occupants stayed inside and locked their doors.

The police called in the SWAT team, which began to break doors and clear the building immediately. A 30-minute call to vacate the premises turned into a five-minute order: "Leave now and board the vans bound for the shelter, or face arrest."

Anthony and Shemeika were taken to the North Commons community center, where the Red Cross converted the gymnasium into a temporary shelter with hundreds of cots lining the floor. After a couple of weeks they moved into a hotel room in Brooklyn Center, where their bill was covered and where they were given bus cards, but no money to buy food or clothing.

"What am I gonna do with a bus card?" Anthony asks, incredulously. "We ride around on the bus, but what are we gonna do once we get there? You can't eat a bus card!"

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