'The only place we can go from here is up'

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 23, 2011 - 10:14 PM

The tornado that hit the North Side left an already bruised area battered, but not yet broken.

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Diane Peaches got a taste of yogurt from daughter Aaliyha, 7, as they ate dinner provided by Cub Foods Monday night in the parking lot. Between them was Shamajai Mydens, 3. At right were Latricia Dortch and Brian Booth, 10.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Hundreds, if not thousands, of residents of an economically depressed Minneapolis neighborhood rife with foreclosures, absentee slumlords and ramshackle properties have a new struggle on their hands.

Starting to rebuild from Sunday's devastating tornado with no renter's insurance. Wondering if their duplex or apartment will be razed or repaired. Figuring out how to leave their newly acquired address in homeless shelters.

In the 24 hours after the tornado touched down in one of the metro area's most densely populated areas, John Lemay listened to dozens of residents, hearing fear, frustration and hopelessness in their voices, along with a common question: What do I do next?

"There's some fear of 'How do I take care of my kids? How do I take care of myself?'" Lemay, chaplain supervisor for the Minneapolis police department, said Monday. "It's a question of uncertainty."

The devastation wrought by the tornado, which hit hardest in a 4-square-mile area, will highlight the plight of north Minneapolis, said the Rev. Richard Coleman, a member of Sanctuary Covenant Church in north Minneapolis.

"This is a meteorological tornado," Coleman said, "but there have been sociological, financial tornados that have hit this area for a long time."

Uninsured and no place to go

While insurance representatives are streaming into north Minneapolis, Mark Kulda of the Insurance Federation of Minnesota said he expects they can't help the large proportion of storm victims who are probably uninsured. Nine out of 10 renters in Minnesota don't have renter's insurance even though it can cost as little as $15 to $20 per month, he said.

The uninsured may not have homes or rental units to return to for the foreseeable future.

In a rental market already racked by foreclosure and the boarding of hundreds of homes, the storm damage rendered even more housing useless, said Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson, who represents Ward 4, a portion of the city heavily damaged by the storm.

A "pretty large number" of the battered homes were bank-owned foreclosures, many of them on the city's boarded property list; those that were badly damaged will probably be demolished, Johnson said.

Homeless, out and back again

Sunday's storm put Velma McDaniel and her family back where they were a year ago: in a homeless shelter, hoping for better days.

Last year McDaniel secured affordable housing in north Minneapolis after bouncing between metro area shelters, including People Serving People.

The wicked winds ripped the roof off her apartment building at 25th and Penn avenues, snatching away her newfound independence with it. While the building undergoes repair, McDaniel's family is one of 30 calling an overflow homeless shelter, the Drake Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, home.

"It takes a considerable amount of time for people to bounce back not only financially, but also emotionally," said Rex Holzemer, Hennepin County Human Services area director. "The real emotional impact is sometimes delayed."

On Tuesday, the city and Hennepin County will sponsor a special tornado assistance center at the Minneapolis Convention Center to line up services for families hurt by Sunday's storm.

Financial assistance, clothing vouchers, housing and shelter, mental health care and legal aid are among the services to be offered. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; organizers will offer bus transportation to the convention center from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Family Assistance Center, 1025 NE. Broadway St.; Pilot City, 1315 Penn Av. N.; and Cub Foods, 701 W. Broadway.

All eyes on north Minneapolis

A group working with One Block at a Time, a North Side contractor, went door-to-door Monday through the damaged area, checking on residents. The tornado brought significant challenges to the "high-crime, high-poverty" neighborhood with its fair share of slumlords, volunteer Davina St. James said.

"A lot of them won't repair these places,'' St. James said. "'Move. Find another place.' That'll be their response."

But the destruction will also call attention to those issues. "It'll put us in the spotlight," she said. "All eyes will be on north Minneapolis now."

Volunteers from the neighborhood went block to block, passing out bags of food and bottled water. Shane Black weaved up and down the debris-lined streets, calling out to people: "Free water for the North Side!"

"I know everything's not going right," he said, balancing a crate of bottled water on his shoulder. "But we want to make sure they know we got the North Side's back."

More than a dozen people gathered outside the armory entrance Monday morning to pray and sing the gospel hymn "When I Lay My Burden Down."

Winds ravaged Cherron Reeves' half of the rented duplex she shared with her five children and two grandchildren, rendering it uninhabitable.

Her family is uninsured and unsure of their next step. But she says she saw a rainbow peek out from the clouds after the tornado ripped through her neighborhood at 32nd and James avenues.

"I'm putting it in God's hand," Reeves said hours before the impromptu song and prayer. "The only place we can go from here is up."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491 Staff writers Steve Brandt, Kevin Duchschere, Rose French, Randy Furst, Bill McAuliffe, Allie Shah and James Shiffer contributed to this report.

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