Three years after its tornado, Hugo has recovered and rebuiltby Tom Crann, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Three years ago, Mike Ericson was trying to coordinate his city's response the day after a tornado tore through Hugo, Minn.
The tornado had killed a two-year-old girl and destroyed 50 homes. Another 300 buildings were damaged by wind and hail. The storm caused $25 million in damages, but Ericson, the city administrator, said residents were able to work together to rebuild what they lost. It's a process that many residents of north Minneapolis are embarking on this week.
Ericson spoke with All Things Considered host Tom Crann on Thursday.
Tom Crann: This weekend, on Sunday, what were you thinking? What was going through your mind as you were monitoring the damage reports we were seeing?
Mike Ericson: Well, like everybody else, I was watching my television, and I was watching it very closely because unfortunately those storm cells were coming from west to east, and certainly the target was Hugo.
Once you've been through a tornado and bad weather, it's pretty much on your radar screen. So because the storm was so strong, we were watching it at home and just monitoring it to see if in fact we needed to go in, and then I contacted our public works director, and he assured me that it was going to be missing Hugo.
Crann: How long did it take for Hugo to recover from that storm damage three years ago?
Ericson: I'm pleased to report that we have some pretty remarkable residents and a lot of great volunteers that in fact helped us clean up that full neighborhood the week after. That Saturday, we had 1,000 volunteers. And then secondly, the homeowners worked with city staff and obtained permits, working with their insurance companies.
We saw, probably within the first 90 to 120 days, a remarkable rebuild ... from the homes that were damaged by the hail, [the homes that needed] new siding and new roofs and new windows.
It was the other part, the homes that were completely damaged and demolished, those are the ones that perhaps took a little bit longer, but they were able to work in many instances with original building plans and their original contractors, builders, to rebuild them. We do have one vacant lot left over, and, unfortunately for that particular individual, he did not have homeowners insurance. And so for him it was a total loss, and he simply did not have the money to rebuild. Pretty much by the end of 2008, you saw a neighborhood that looked remarkably like it did prior to the tornado.
Crann: What was the biggest challenge though in those days?
Ericson: The biggest challenge probably was getting the residents back into their homes as soon as possible, even though they didn't have power, getting into their own homes, the ones that were habitable, was very important, and so that they could ascertain what was going on.
We were able to do that actually very rapidly within 24 hours. And that was a lot of work by a lot of people. Again, we thank the area police departments and fire departments and public works departments who assisted our public works department in clearing the area so the residents could get in.
Crann: So in these last couple of days as you see what people are facing in north Minneapolis, what do you think they need to know right now?
Ericson: Well, that the city and the county and certainly the state and federal people are there and they're working for them. I've followed it very, very closely. I see some similarities to what we did, and I believe very strongly that they are doing the right things, that they are reaching out. There are fundraisers already being set up. The same agencies that were here during that month, Salvation Army, United Way, Red Cross, Lutheran Social Services, they're all there. That's huge.
And then lastly I think from a pure economic development point of view, it's going to spur a lot of activity and trades people and tree removal companies, and that's hopefully a blessing out of that. It's a tragedy. It's very sad, but that's hopefully a good thing for the city of Minneapolis.
Crann: Thanks for taking us back through the last three years. I appreciate it.
Ericson: Tom, it's my pleasure, and to your listeners, just let them know that the city of Minneapolis, they'll get through it. They'll get through it by working together.
(Interview edited and transcribed by MPR reporter Madeleine Baran)