Tornado a harsh blow for a hard-hit neighborhoodby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — North Minneapolis has battled every urban menace you can think of — from foreclosures to gang violence. But nothing could have prepared its residents for Sunday's tornado that tore apart some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
Jhenele Martin had to confront her own theories about where tornadoes could and could not strike. On Sunday afternoon, her 5-year-old daughter, Lanae, was the one who first noticed a TV news crawler about a twister headed their way.
"We were watching TV, and my daughter kept saying, 'Mommy, is the tornado warning coming?" I said, 'Tornadoes don't come to the 'hood. No tornado's coming.' And, like, three minutes later, the sky got real dark. And I thought, 'I never saw no wind like that.'"
Martin's apartment building emerged unscathed. But just outside her window, the storm sucked hulking trees out of the ground and chucked a garage unit several blocks.
Across the street, at Lowry and Logan avenues, an exhausted Kay Engmark is sitting on the steps outside the duplex she's rented for 17 years. The tornado shaved the top right off of the house; the entire attic is gone. Engmark's living room is filled with glass shards and debris. And like many others on her block, she doesn't have renter's insurance to cover all the items and valuables inside the house.
But it doesn't mean she lost everything.
"It means my daughter and I came out of here alive, and that's what it means to me. Anything else is replaceable. We came out unhurt."
Despite Engmark's resilience, others do worry about how north siders will move on. Neighborhood leaders say residents are going to need a lot of support — not just in the coming days, but over several months. With so many renters in the area, it's up to landlords to decide whether they'll rebuild, and at what pace.
Minneapolis officials say Sunday's tornado caused around $166 million in damage. A spokesman for the city called that a very preliminary estimate of damage to both public and private structures and infrastructure. Not factored is the cost of the emergency response. The spokesman said damage assessors continue to go door to door. A more detailed account of the damage should be available within a few days.
Youth worker Walter Anderson says he worries mostly about schoolchildren and young people on the north side, who he says are in shock.
"These kids are walking around with their mouths open, not knowing what to do, where to go. It's a bit much. The inner-city doesn't get the chance to see things like this often."
Making it more complicated is the fact that north Minneapolis was already struggling with a housing crisis. In the four-square mile area that the city deems hardest hit, more than 270 homes were foreclosed in the past year.
Despite all of its challenges, the north side is home to plenty of strong churches, nonprofits, and neighborhoods. They've all come out in force to help with the recovery.
Monday morning, hundreds of volunteers gathered at a community center for a morning prayer before heading out in teams to clear trees and hand out water and food.
One of the organizers, Marque Jensen, works for Sanctuary Community Development Corporation. Jensen says some of the affected blocks had more vacant homes than occupied ones. As devastating as the storm was, he says many want to see rebirth in some of the most blighted areas.
"We're believing and hoping that — there's a lot of tough housing, a lot of housing being rehabbed, a lot boarded-up housing — but that out of this, we'll have better and stronger neighborhoods."
Police have ended their nighttime curfew, which they imposed Sunday night in part as a precaution against looting. While there was a handful of burglaries and one liquor store looting, city officials say there was no widespread crime trend.
Former north side resident Michele Livingston returned to her neighborhood, where thousands were without power yesterday. Livingston passed out charcoal and lighter fluid to folks who were gathering to cook meat that would otherwise go bad.
"We own grills. That's one thing we do in north Minneapolis — we barbeque," Livingston said.
Livingston said people are pulling together.
"The general attitude was, 'Who can we help? What can we do?' A lot of people's minds were on kids, their neighbors, who needed help, how can we move trees? Strong guys pulling things out of the way, helping old ladies, helping kids, helping moms. That's what goes on in our neighborhoods, too. We're not absent of that."
- Morning Edition, 05/24/2011, 8:25 a.m.