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Commentary: 6 months after the storms

The tragedy of a storm is not over when the storm stops. The physical, emotional and financial toll continues as community members continue to work to rebuild homes and communities.

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By Leeann Jorgensen, Alexandria, MN

The storms, derecho straight-line winds and tornado swirling winds, left Douglas County areas with devastating damage to homes, livelihoods and community. Our yard had a tree down and I complained about the expense until I heard the stories from members of the Douglas County 2022 Storms Long Term Recovery Group that's been meeting weekly following the May storms to provide support and information for the residences hit hardest by the storm.

This follow-up recognizes that the tragedy of a storm is not over when the storm stops. The physical, emotional, and financial toll continues as community members continue to work to rebuild homes and communities.

The Douglas County Long Term Recovery Group are city clerk (Jo Kluver, Forada) township clerks (Carol Hedlund, Hudson Township and Kelli Bielke, LaGrand Township), township board member (Joel Dahlheimer, Alexandria Township), Forada mayor (David Reller), Leeann Jorgensen, (Minnesota Responds), Angie Larson, (Calvary Lutheran) and Heather Molesworth (West Central MN Community Action) and is led by Julie Anderson, Douglas County Emergency Managment.

The group offers continuing support for those hit hardest by the storms. I am volunteering as a member of Minnesota Responds , a statewide organization connecting mental health provider volunteers to areas that may need assistance.

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I am most interested in resilience, what resources are necessary to survive, and hopefully emerge and thrive, following disaster. I created a full informational power point about stress anxiety, disaster response, trauma and body response. After attending these meeting, I began to think that the group members didn’t need explanations about disaster and stress. They are living it. I began to listen to the stories.

As I listened to the struggles the tenacity and successful rebuilding, I couldn’t help but be curious about the patterns of frustration and success, so I asked about interviewing some of the members to put together a history of the storm experience for the communities and recommendations for others to prepare. The members graciously agreed and I have begun to put together the story of the storm recovery. These are themes so far:

Surprise and overwhelming. The stories I have heard have been of a pleasant afternoon with recognition of approaching thunder but not really concern until there was and then — instant devastation, overwhelming damage, and disbelief. More than once I have heard, “We are used to dealing with Mother Nature and the challenges of weather” in agriculture. With all the challenges in farming and living, I have never experienced anything like this before.

Appreciation for response of neighbors and friends who showed up to offer help. Most said fire departments and police/sheriff departments were immediately checking to assure that everyone was safe. Meals and support provided by Red Cross and Salvation Army. Most interviewees named community members who helped with meals and cleanup. Many also helped others in their community even as they were struggling themselves.

Recognition of the importance of insurance. Those who are recovering best are those who had full replacement insurance and a responsive insurance agency. The Douglas County Long Term Recovery group and Calvary Lutheran Church provided a five-month dinner and included an insurance commission representative to help with insurance. Check your insurance coverage annually is not just the recommendation of your insurance agent, but all these survivors.

Frustration and patience. With summer construction and already full schedules for builders, contractors, repair companies, electricians, plumbers and trash removal, there are few services available for emergency response. Some homeowners are doing without full electricity and plumbing in homes. The persons I have interviewed have some creative ways to live but are waiting for basic items as garage door repair, trash bins, siding and roof repair. Some have little financial resources with repairs underway. Some have money but no one to hire. Some requests are simple such as trash bins, trash cleanup, and garage door repair. Some are complicated as a full-home rebuild and costs over what insurance can cover. These are the most difficult as winter approaches. The storms are over but the recovery has just begun.

The Douglas County Long Term Recovery Group has a list of needs yet unfulfilled and has set up an Alexandria Response Fund to help communities with the recovery or call Julie Anderson, Douglas County Emergency Management at 320-304-7115. Financial support, an afternoon of exercise picking up branches or repairing garage doors would be appreciated. Electrical and plumbing knowledge are a benefit too.

To donate online, go to https://www.communitygiving.org/donors-advisors/donations .

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The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
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