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A community celebrates its bond, wonders what's next

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Sisters enjoying the bargeque
Sisters Radiance Anderson, 5, and Zantrice Brooks, 3, attended the community barbeque held for North Minneapolis residents on Monday, May 23, 2011, following the tornado that struck the neighborhood the day before. Food and beverages were donated by Cub Foods, General Mills, Kemps, Oscar Meyer, Jerry's Enterprise and Pan-O-Gold Bakery.
MPR Photo/Caroline Yang

On Monday night, there was a smell in north Minneapolis. But it wasn't the smell of a gas leak or a broken sewer system or a fire in the wake of Sunday's devastating tornado.

It was the smell of grilling meat.

North Minneapolis residents are cleaning up -- and getting a look at what remains -- after Sunday's storm that was responsible for two deaths, dozens of injuries and at least $166 million in damages. Hundreds of people were left homeless by the storm, which took down trees and crushed homes. Now, many are uncertain about when --or if -- they'll be able to move back into their homes.

But Monday evening offered a welcome chance to gather with neighbors and share those concerns. 

All over the area hit by the tornado, people sat outside cooking -- surrounded by debris, fallen trees and damaged buildings. The biggest BBQ of all was in the parking lot of Cub Foods on Broadway. 

Gathered for the barbeque
Residents of North Minneapolis gathered at a barbeque held at Cub Foods in Minneapolis on Monday, May 23, 2011, following the tornado that struck the community the day before.
MPR Photo/Caroline Yang

Around 400 people gathered in the parking lot of Cub Foods in north Minneapolis.  The grocery store teamed up with companies like General Mills and Kemps to offer a free meal and a chance for the neighborhood's residents to be together.

There, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak greeted the crowd.

"I want you to look your neighbors in the eye, and just say something pretty simple: Thank God you are here," the mayor said.

People repeated that sentiment, over and over, as they sat eating hotdogs and swapping war stories. 

Najla Karime told her neighbors about how her family was outside when the tornado came.

"My daughter says, 'Mom, mom, look at the sky!'  And then she starts jumping up, I felt like it was five feet in the air. And I turn around. The tornado was right there," she recounted.

Najla Karim
Najla Karime, 36, of north Minneapolis, brought her family to the community barbeque, held at Cub Foods on Monday, May 23, 2011, for North Side neighbors in the aftermath of yesterday's tornado. Karim described how she, her husband, and nine children witnessed the approaching tornado just before running to their basement. The family's house is still in tact, though they have no electricity and will be staying in a hotel this evening.
MPR Photo/Caroline Yang

Karime and her family got downstairs just before the tornado hit. She's one of the lucky ones -- her garage is destroyed and her house is without power, but she has homeowner's insurance. She expects her family will be able to move back into their home eventually. For now, they're in a hotel.

But many people don't know what's next.

About half the homes in north Minneapolis are rentals, as is William Nelson's. And when the tornado swept through, it took the roof right off his home. He doesn't expect he'll ever be able to move back in.

"We don't have a house anymore," he said. "It's over. No more house. It's a wrap."

A dinner for tornado victims
Cub Foods, General Mills, Kemps, Oscar Meyer, Jerry's Enterprise, and Pan-O-Gold Bakery sponsored a community barbeque for residents of North Minneapolis on Monday, May 23, 2011, following the tornado that struck the neighborhood yesterday. Volunteers handed out donated meals at the Cub Foods parking lot in North Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Caroline Yang

For now, Nelson is staying with friends. For him, it's hard to exaggerate how difficult the past days have been.

"It's not a Hurricane Katrina. But hell, as far as I'm concerned, it is."

Across the parking lot, Jonathan Young waits in line for a hotdog with three of his kids. They can't believe what their home looks like now.

"If you look at our house, it's crooked," Young said. "It's not straight up and down. It's crooked to the left. Our bathroom feels like you're going uphill. When you go into the bathroom, it feels like you're walking uphill. It just shifted the whole house."

Young said the wind knocked the place off its foundation. Now he's wondering whether he and his family will have to move out. It all depends, he said, on what his landlord decides to do.

"That's all we can do is sit and wait," Young said. "What else can we do?"

Cub Foods held the Monday night BBQ in part to make sure people had a meal. Several food carts, which usually sell high-end food like fancy fish tacos, were also in north Minneapolis, giving away meals. But the BBQ was not just for calories. It also gave residents a place to sit together and share their concerns. 

For Essie McKenzie, that sense of being in it together has been a real surprise. She admitted she hardly knew any of her neighbors before this happened. Then right after the tornado, they came flying out into the streets.

"They was like, 'Oh, my god, your kids OK?' ... I barely speak to them on a normal basis, but at a time like this, you really can get together. I felt a little better at that situation, like, 'Dang, I'm really staying somewhere where people care about me."

City officials commend the way neighbors have come together. But Mayor Rybak said he's concerned about housing in the short term. He says housing is the main problem right now.

Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis will hold a one-day Tornado Assistance Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Officials and others will be on hand to take questions about insurance, shelters, health care, mental health and anything else people need. A regular bus shuttle will transport residents from a few Northside locations to the convention center and back.

Meanwhile, Cub Foods plans to have another barbeque Tuesday from 5 to 6:30 p.m., in the parking lot.