Blue plastic tarps dotted the roofs of hundreds of homes in north Minneapolis, and the sounds of chain saws buzzed in the background.

Some homes had gaping holes in their roofs or sides; some had porches caved in with cars out front smashed in half. Decades-old trees lay on their sides by the hundreds.

That was how block after block looked after a tornado ripped through several neighborhoods Sunday.

Two men were killed, 50 people were injured, at least 600 buildings were damaged and more than 2,000 trees were wiped out.

Yet amid all that destruction, you could turn down some of the most devastated blocks and catch a whiff of hot dogs or ribs, with gaggles of neighbors gathered around grills.

That's how hundreds of North Side neighbors pulled together one night this week to comfort one another, feed each other and talk about the next steps.

Along with neighbors, local nonprofits and businesses stepped up. Grocery stores offered food to the displaced. A few businesses with electricity had "Charge your cell phones here" signs in their windows.

The city of Minneapolis also came through.

By Tuesday, most of the huge trees had been moved to the curbs, enough to create at least a single car path on the streets. Helpful information about finding clothing, shelter, food, financial help and counseling was widely distributed.

One glitch: An ad-hoc clearing center that was set up Tuesday at the downtown Minneapolis Convention Center was quickly overwhelmed by about 1,200 storm victims.

But by Wednesday, an expanded operation was open at Farview Park -- closer to residents and with more people to help with basic needs as well as volunteer attorneys. The center will be open to storm victims from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Immediate responses have been commendable, yet a range of challenges remain as the long road to recovery begins. Chief among them is housing an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 displaced people.

The city needs help from housing organizations, nonprofits and other landlords to provide apartments and other places to stay.

Another concern is the barrage of commercial services -- some legitimate, some not -- that have descended on the neighborhoods. North Minneapolis has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the region -- a good portion of them caused by predatory lending.

The already challenged neighborhood should not be revictimized by dishonest contractors. To help property owners make good choices, the city has information about properly licensed companies.

And the We Care, Northside! coalition of community-based businesses, agencies and media has information on certified licensed and bonded businesses.

Many North Side residents are unemployed, and one positive result of the storm could be that some of those people find work in the rebuilding efforts.

The city and North Side property owners should see to it that a reasonable portion of those projects go to minority contractors or jobs programs that hire neighborhood adults and teens.

To that end, We Care, Northside! is providing referrals to businesses. That kind of effort can help turn this devastating act of nature into an opportunity.

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