Ten years after tornado struck his community, Granite mayor offers helping hand
GRANITE FALLS -- Mayor Dave Smiglewski of Granite Falls made phone calls to Wadena over the weekend offering any help that he or his community could provide as Wadena recovers from the damage inflicted Thursday by a tornado rated EF4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale.
What was deemed an F4 tornado on the Fujita scale in use at the time tore a 12-block path of destruction in Granite Falls on July 25, 2000, killing one man and destroying 69 homes.
"Now when you drive through the neighborhoods that were hit, it looks pretty normal,'' he said. "It took 10 years to get there.''
Smiglewski said he believes that his community's experience in recovery efforts could help Wadena navigate what's ahead, although he noted every situation is unique.
"There's no three-ring binder you can pull off the shelf that will tell you: If you get hit by a tornado, here's what you should do,'' said Smiglewski.
He said recovery efforts only get more complicated once people get past the initial shock and start the process of rebuilding their lives.
Smiglewski said his community received the help it needed from local and state agencies in the immediate aftermath of the tornado.
Granite Falls was especially benefited by the outpouring of support from individuals and private organizations. One month after the tornado struck, the city had received more than $365,000 in private donations, everything from $5 and $10 bills sent anonymously to $1,000 checks written by people like Twin's hall of famer Kirby Puckett and evangelist Billy Graham.
In many respects, the unrestricted contributions were some of the most important help the city received, he said. Everyone is caught in different circumstances when disaster strikes. The private donations could help those with the greatest needs, he explained.
Some of the greatest harm that follows a tornado is the emotional struggles and personal hardships that are often invisible to the public. Granite Falls worked with the local Family Services agency, the ministerial association and churches, and other groups to see that help of all sorts -- from mental health counseling to roof repairs -- got to those who had needs not being met.
Wadena has a long road to recovery ahead, and some of the more trying times come months later when the tornado becomes "old news'' to others, Smiglewski said. He was especially frustrated with the challenges the community faced when it went to the Legislature six months later seeking help. It had a difficult time reminding some of the promises that had been made immediately after the tornado. He fears Wadena will face even greater challenges due to the financial issues facing the state of Minnesota today.
On the one-year anniversary of the tornado, Granite Falls gathered to grieve the losses, pray and look back at as a way to heal, said the mayor.
When the second anniversary was about to approach, no one wanted to mark the occasion, he said. "They didn't want to remember the day. It brought back too many painful memories.''