North Minneapolis tornado victims have been forgotten

Officials moved on, but neighborhood never got help

Frustrated by the lack of help from the powers that be, Anthony and Shemeika moved back into their apartment building, at their landlord's urging, two months after the tornado. Anthony became the building's de facto superintendent and custodian, installing new windows and doors himself, and salvaging anything from the building that hadn't been looted following the forced eviction.

Clothing, CDs, and a TV were lost to vandals. The five minutes that police had given them to vacate the building wasn't enough time to secure their valuables.

"We're using our Social Security money to buy back those household items," said Anthony. "It's gonna be a tough Christmas."

"Response worse than Katrina."

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

Pauline Turner owns the dubious distinction of surviving two natural disasters that were followed by controversial relief efforts. She lived in Woodville, Mississippi, in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. Turner was able to remain in her home but was cut off from sources of employment and food. Instead, she survived off the services provided by FEMA.

"There were FEMA tents everywhere: You could go to the Red Cross, or get food stamps, or mental help—whatever you needed," Turner recalls while taking a drag from a cigarette. "But here the food stamps were only for those who were already receiving them. They should have had boxes of food here for us."

Looking haggard and exhausted in clothes that appear too big for her, Turner says she's considering giving up on Minneapolis and moving back to the Gulf Coast.

"They gave us sandwiches and a pat on the back and left."

For a month after the tornado, Leonard Searcy, his mother, and his kids continued to live in a house on Knox and Lowry, even though the windows were broken and the gas was turned off. Their landlord forced Searcy's mom to pay rent, under threat of court action.

"Not only was [the delinquent landlord] an injustice to us, but to this neighborhood," says the 22-year-old, who describes how he and his mother boiled water on the stove to wash themselves.

Searcy says the city, the county, and the nonprofits established to serve north Minneapolis also failed him and his family. "The individual aid never came through. But the money was given to nonprofits that came here and gave us sandwiches and a pat on the back and then left."

The landlord finally kicked them out of the house in September, Searcy says, after the city pressured him to make the necessary repairs. "He wanted us out so he wouldn't have to fix the place. He knows that north Minneapolis is changing, and if he sits on the house, its value is gonna rise."

With nowhere else to go, Searcy, his mom, and the kids now live with his sister in a house on Herschel Street near University Avenue in St. Paul. The neighborhood is completely new to him since he had never lived anywhere but north Minneapolis. Fifteen people now share that home: four adults and 11 kids. The house has four bedrooms, but in actuality, nearly every inch of available space is used for sleeping quarters. When he's not working a third shift processing film at a job in New Brighton, Searcy shares a couch with his three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter.

He worries about the children, who have had to move four times since the tornado, and alternate between their mother in Coon Rapids and wherever Searcy is staying at the time.

"There's no structure in their lives," he says. "Lots of construction and deconstruction has gotten the kids off balance."

The kids are also noticeably scared whenever inclement weather approaches. They think the tornado is returning to hurt them.

"I try to calm them and tell them that weather patterns are different, but they're afraid of dark clouds."

"This was two weeks after the tornado, and they're worried about deck railings."

When Marie and Michael Porter bought a house with a hot tub in the bedroom in March, for just $45,000, they thought they'd hit the jackpot. Two months later, the north Minneapolis tornado uprooted the big walnut tree in their backyard and threw it into the house, lifted the roof and dropped it back down, and sent three of the neighbor's trees through the walls like spears. One tree landed in the cats' litter box. The Porters hadn't even finished moving in when the storm struck.

On Sunday, May 22, Marie, a cookbook author and native of Winnipeg, Canada, and Michael, a technician at Boston Scientific, were in nearby Brooklyn Park when they received a call from their alarm company that there was reportedly a fire in their basement. Worried about the four cats, they hurried home only to realize that it wasn't a fire, but a tornado that had descended on their neighborhood. They were able to drive within three blocks of their house, then sprinted the rest, scrambling over downed trees, branches, and power lines.

And that was only the beginning of the nightmare.

"The city has been so blazingly incompetent, it's like they're working against progress in north Minneapolis," says Marie. "I've had to fight with them repeatedly."

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