Residents, Agents Pitch In as Minnesota Town Recovers from Storm

May 29, 2008

Crews in Hugo, Minn. worked to restore electricity and natural gas and insurance agents went door-to-door as this small suburb got back on its feet after the devastating storm that killed a toddler and flattened homes.

Mayor Fran Miron said the St. Paul suburb had turned an important corner in its recovery when residents who had been forced from their homes after the storm were allowed to return on May 26. The tornado that struck Sunday, May 25 killed 2-year-old Nathaniel Prindle, injured 17 people and destroyed dozens of homes. Another 150 houses were damaged.

State building inspectors checked damaged structures and Miron said the city’s phones had been ringing constantly with callers offering to help. A major volunteer cleanup effort was being organized for Saturday.

“There are important messages here from the families that they can send out to Minnesota and the world,” said Miron, describing how neighbors descended on his farm east of Hugo to repair damaged buildings and fences and help with his dairy herd.

Miron said the city could use the help, with so much debris scattered all over town. “No one individual, no one property owner, can handle that,” he said.

Insurers also came into the town and went door-to-door as claims soared from Hugo west to Coon Rapids.

State Farm found 43 houses that qualified for “severity” or total loss claims. State Farm spokeswoman Missy Youmans said that by midafternoon May 27 the company had also fielded 4,071 claims from homeowners in another area from Coon Rapids eastward hard hit by hailstorms.

Dan and Tina Roesers’ agent from American Family Insurance handed them a check Tuesday for $302,000 to replace their house, which bore a red tag, meaning inspectors had determined it was structurally unsafe. It was one of dozens considered uninhabitable.

Farmers Insurance gave $10,000 to Terry and Colleen Clarkin “to get us back on our feet,” Terry Clarkin said, and another check for $324,000 to build a new house.

While residents had full access to the damaged neighborhoods, contractors didn’t, said Hugo Community Development Director Bryan Bear. He said only contractors who get city-issued credentials could enter the area.

“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.

Meanwhile, students returned to Oneka Elementary, which was used as a makeshift community center after the storm. Principal Teresa Dahlem said she tried to make school as normal as possible.

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