Forada on the mend, but it hasn't been easy
It's been just over three months since a tornado tore through Forada in west-central Minnesota. Since then, the town of about 160 residents has been on the mend, but it hasn’t been easy.
With winds estimated as high as 120 mph, the Forada neighborhood located closest to Maple Lake took the brunt of the damage from the EF-2 tornado. Tons of debris ended up in the water.
In late June, over a three-day period, clean-up crews pulled more than 100 cubic yards of construction and demolition waste from the lake. Today, most of the shoreline is clear, but there are still a few collection piles visible. Douglas County Land and Resource Management director, Dave Rush, said it’s going to take years for Maple Lake and the city of Forada to get back to the way it was.
The day after the storm Derek Lindquist was busy removing debris and downed trees that had fallen in his yard. Lindquist watched from the porch as the tornado cut a path straight toward him.
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“I was looking out with the door open, and you could hear it, it’s like they say, it does sound like a freight train coming, I knew then that it was time to head for the basement,” he said then.
Having been fascinated with tornados from a young age Lindquist tried to look out a basement window to see what was going on outside but when his ears popped, he decided to huddle in a corner in the basement. He said the commotion lasted anywhere from five to eight seconds before complete silence and his ears finally tuned in to the sound of dripping water.
“I figured, ‘Well, that wasn’t so bad.’ And then I came up, looked around and it was kind of a complete disaster,” Lindquist said.
Months later he's still dealing with the after-effects. And the costs haven't been purely financial.
"I went to work like usual, and work here and clean up, and after about four weeks of that straight I finally took a leave of absence from work. It got a little emotional” he said. “I still get a little worked up sometimes."
Lindquist’s neighbors have been helping him process the trauma from that day which he believes left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
One way he’s been dealing with the stress is through daily swims in the lake. Lindquist says he loves the water and has been using the lake as therapy. He regularly spends a couple hours a day immersed in it, swimming and removing what he estimates to be a total of a couple thousand pounds of shingles, ripped off nearby roofs.
Now, surrounded by broken windows, mold and structural damage to his home, Lindquist is waiting on his insurance company before he can repair and move on.
"We are having problems with the insurance, they want to keep bickering back and forth with how much it’s going to cost to fix," he said. “I know other people have it way worse, sometimes I think that it would have been easier if it had just taken the whole damn house.”
Down the road Steve Archbold and his wife were also home the day of the tornado and like Lindquist he felt his ears pop, too, as well as his eyes.
"When a storm or something like that happens, you're never prepared for it, no matter what you think you're ready for. When it happens it's very shocking," he said.
Archbold feels people need personal care and attention to get over what happened emotionally.
"Over and above the financial loss your personal health, it's pretty important. A lot of people are still hurting. And it's not to do with money. It's just the trauma of what they went through," Archbold said. “When you try to put your things back together, the first thing you do is try to look at your insurance and see if you can get some assistance there to get back to where you were, or even partially back to where you were.”
Archbold has also been held up by his insurance company.
"My advice to the people that are trying to find out what to do to prepare for something like this, you have to know what your insurance coverage is,” he said. “You have to keep your numbers up to date. The cost of replacement has increased substantially the past few years. And for people that have not updated the coverages, I would say a good number of people will be underinsured if a storm hits their property, and that's a terrible position to be in."
Archbold said he felt very uneasy during the first storm after the tornado. That night he was in bed with his wife and nudged her to ask if she was OK. Archbold said neither of them were and both stayed awake until the storm passed.
At Forada City Hall, Mayor David Reller, says now that most of the debris has been cleared the biggest issue the town faces is returning the landscape.
“Our long-range challenges, how do we get the trees back? Is anybody out there that has some nice mature trees they’d like to donate? We lost massive troves of trees,” Reller said. “Driving through Forada Beach Road it’s just all open. We had forests, we don’t have forests anymore.”
Reller said there’s a lot of consternation among residents surrounding slow response to insurance claims.
“I'm not sure if that's just standard operating procedure for insurance companies, but we just heard lots of nightmares," he said.
He’s also heard from residents they have had difficulty negotiating with many insurance companies and that the companies have been hesitant to make any commitments. On a positive note, Reller was impressed with how efficient clean-up efforts have been.
“We’ve had a tremendous response from the county — Dave Rush, Julie Anderson, the county commissioners — they’ve just been superb in response to our needs,” Reller said. “They were able to provide dump areas for all the trees, but they also took responsibility for the trash in the lake. There was a tremendous amount of trash.”
Back at the lake, Mike Grove, says he's one of the lucky ones. A towering cottonwood punctured his roof, piercing all the way down to the basement but he was unharmed. His insurance company was quick to respond and very supportive. Especially when it came time to remove the tree, which ended up costing around $27,000.
Although eventually everything was resolved, Grove is critical of how much of the clean-up burden fell on individual homeowners, especially when it came to out-of-pocket expenses.
“I think the city, if I had one recommendation, is just to have a better disaster plan. You can predict these things could happen,” Grove said. “With that in mind every city should be sitting down and saying ‘OK, if such an event occurs what are we going to do? What’s the plan?’ And then know it from start to finish so that you’re kind of practicing.”
Grove said in the wake of the tornado he was enamored by the way the community came together.
And one special moment sticks with him.
"Long after everything is forgotten about this storm, the one thing I will remember is the fire department guys came and brought me a hot dog and a can of beer,” he said. “And I was like 'OK, I will remember that.' You know, I mean, there was a lot of kindness, but that it was just at a time where I was like, 'I could use a beer.' It was, they just showed up."