Bittersweet homecoming for N. Mpls resident displaced by tornado

Tornado destruction
The tornado damaged the backyard of Brett Buckner's duplex.
Courtesy of Brett Buckner

Some victims of the tornado that struck north Minneapolis last year are just getting back to a sort of normalcy.

After nearly 10 months, Brett Buckner, a displaced north-side resident, is finally moving back into his recently repaired house — but the homecoming is bittersweet.

The upper unit of Buckner's duplex suffered the most damage during the tornado. Buckner said that right after the storm, you could look up and see the sky from this part of the house.

He was in the house when the tornado ripped through the neighborhood, but said that oddly, it wasn't scary.

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"We didn't know what was going on," he said.

It looks like everything underneath the new roof was replaced or restored. The hardwood floors are in pristine condition. The stainless steel appliances in the kitchen still have the protective plastic on them. But Buckner has mixed feelings about his return home.

"It's been 10 months in the making to get back home," he said. "My only major regret is that mom is not here to share it with us."

Buckner's 74-year-old mom Dora — who lived on the first floor of the duplex — died last December. The storm forced her to leave the home she'd lived in for 40 years.

Buckner said he and his mom stayed with relatives, then at an extended-stay hotel and at a shelter downtown. Given his mom's age and failing health, Buckner said he wanted to get her back home as soon as possible.

"I remember clearly, around mid-December we were thinking we were going to get her home before her birthday and all of us sudden — we were like, 'It's just a couple of weeks out,' " he said. "But she just seemed like, 'I don't know if I'm going to be able to make that type of time.' I'm like, 'Don't talk like that.' "

Buckner said his homecoming would have come sooner had it not been for delays he blames on his insurance company. He said it will cost more than $275,000 to fix all the damage left by the tornado. But Buckner is fighting with his insurance company to make sure it's all covered.

He said the company is disputing that some of the damage was caused by the tornado. Buckner also said undisputed claims were paid out slowly which delayed crucial work.

According to the state's Department of Commerce, insurance companies have paid out nearly $64 million and resolved 90 percent of all claims related to the May 22 storms that ripped through the northern metro and heavily damaged a swath of north Minneapolis.

However, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said some claims remain open because of unresolved disputes. He said the state has received about 25 to 30 complaints about claim payment delays or disputes between policy holders and insurers.

The state can investigate and take action against insurance companies using unfair practices. But he said it's usually faster for both parties to work out the dispute amongst themselves.

"To the extent that we can encourage fast, prompt payment of claims, it's important for policy holders, for the companies for the community to make sure that that happens," Rothman said.

Buckner is going to put some of his mom's antique furniture back where it was before the storm. His mother was not counted as a tornado casualty, but Buckner said the stress of being displaced by the storm clearly had a negative effect on her health.

"I know that took a great strain and toll from her," he said. "And ... here we are. Here we are."

So far this year, tornadoes have killed dozens and ripped apart the homes and lives of thousands of people throughout the country. Buckner knows what many of them have gone through and will go through in the months and maybe years to come as they try to get their lives back to normal.