The cleanup and recovery begins in Hugoby Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
Cleanup and recovery begin in earnest today in the city of Hugo, two days after a tornado ripped through town killing a toddler and destroying dozens of homes.
Much of yesterday was spent assessing the damage and making the area where the tornado touched down was safe enough for residents to return.
Officials gave residents an update on the damage last night and said many of the access restrictions will be lifted today.
Hugo, Minn. — Residents in Hugo are trying to pick up the pieces after a deadly tornado cut a narrow swath through the northeastern part of town Sunday night.
City officials said the tornado caused about $25 million in damage to personal property, including 50 homes that were completely destroyed.
One of the homes belonged to Jane Deppert. She and her family were away when the storm hit, but they knew the damage was severe even before they returned to Hugo Monday. Friends told her, and she saw it on the news. She and her 10-year-old son Matt visited the site where their home used to sit.
"It's just unfathomable. What do you think? Complete destruction. Yes, complete destruction. It's unbelievable," Deppert said.
Deppert said she and her son have cried over the loss of their home.
"But you know what, we weren't home, and that's a relief, really that's all that matters. We were so lucky to not be home," Deppert reflected.
Not everyone was as fortunate. The tornado killed two-year-old Nathaniel Prindle, and 32 other people were injured and required hospitalization.
Officials said about 159 homes suffered at least some damage from the tornado, including Wendy Olson's new home.
"One of my windows is broken, two of them you can not shut. Then the siding looks like someone came in with a machine gun and pelted at it," Olson said. "I've been there since May 2. I didn't have a driveway or yard yet. It's terrible."
But Olson said she's fortunate. No one in her family was hurt.
Meanwhile, Gov. Tim Pawlenty yesterday declared a state of emergency for Washington County. The order directs state agencies to help local governments as they recover from the storm, but it's not clear how much government financial assistance will be available.
Pawlenty said the city might not qualify for disaster aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, because private insurance will cover much of the damage. But he said that doesn't mean the city's out of luck.
"We have examples of this, of course, in other areas where tornados have come through that have not been FEMA-eligible, and yet the state has provided some forms of assistance, and I'm sure we'll do that again here," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty even raised the prospect of calling a special legislative session to provide funding for Hugo, if the city doesn't have enough cash on hand to shoulder all the costs.
Those costs are still being tallied. The current $25 million damage estimate doesn't include damage to commercial and government property, or the cost of emergency services.
City inspectors today begin assessing the damage to commercial property and agricultural structures. In addition, they are still conducting in-depth inspections of homes that are still deemed uninhabitable.
Homeowners who can have returned to their property and are cleaning up the debris and starting to make repairs.
As a way to protect homeowners, Hugo Community Development Director Bryan Bear said the city is limiting contractor access to the area to only contractors who obtain city-issued credentials.
"We don't want contractors just driving around the area soliciting. There's enough activity in that area the way that it is. There's still inspection crews and rescue crews and clean-up crews and things like that. You can only imagine if it was unfettered access by contractors as well," Bear said.
Starting today there will be unfettered access to the city of Hugo. Highway 61, which had been closed since the tornado hit, is open again. And in another attempt to return to normal life, schools will be open today as scheduled.
- Morning Edition, 05/27/2008, 7:20 a.m.