So… You’ve Been Hit by a Tornado.

Note: I am intentionally NOT including photos in this article, as I know that I sure didn’t want to see such photos right after I went through this. Links point to blog entries that can have photos, however

We’re now at just over 9 months since having our own lives turned upside down by the May 22, 2011 Minneapolis tornado. We’re far along enough in our repairs , that we’re more able to notice what’s going on in the rest of the world… right in time for a major tornado season. Awesome. :/

Watching the coverage of the insane amount of Tornadoes that hit on Friday was incredibly rough. While a lot of the imagery was far beyond what we experienced here last spring, it stirred up a lot of extremely vivid memories of those first few days.

I’ll be honest – just hearing “Tornado Cleanup Forecast” made me tear up. I remember what it was like, not having an intact roof, and just dreading rain in the forecast. I remember listening to the rain fall on our tarp, just dreading any further damage as a result. I’ve never felt so powerless in my whole life… NOT a great feeling.

It’s now four days since the tornado outbreak, so I’m assuming a lot of the immediate must-dos have been taken care of – I’ve seen many to-do lists in the media. Turn the power off, etc. It’s great, but I’m not seeing any “been there, done that” type real-world advice for what to consider next. You know, the kind of advice I could have used at that point in the game.

So, in the interest of paying forward some of the help we received in our time of need, I’d like to offer up some tips based on the lessons we’ve learned. Most of these may seem like little things, but will go a long way to keeping you sane, whether now or down the road.

1. Take Photos FIRST.

It can take your insurance company days to come by – and some people in our area had to wait WEEKS. Take photos of EVERYTHING before you even start to clear debris. Let them know you’re doing so, before you start cleanup. We had it easy for insurance, but we’ve heard of so many horror stories to come out of “our” tornado.

2. Don’t Go Cheap on Garbage Bags.

We made this mistake early on. When cleaning up the rubble and debris, you’re going to come across stuff you never accounted for – We found broken vinyl tile in our bedroom. It wasn’t from our house! Luckily, our new friend Tara (Who came to the rescue when a mutual friend mentioned us needing volunteers!) Came to the rescue with contractor bags. It seems like a little thing, but it made life so much easier. Also, we found out later – there is a big difference in quality even in contractor bags. Get the good, heavy duty ones.

3. Make Use of Social Media.

First off, get online and make sure to post a message on EVERY outlet you have, that you are ok (or not), and a brief update about the situation. Not only will this put your friends and loved ones at ease to a degree, it will free up your phone from some of the frantic calls you’d be receiving to see if you’re ok. Especially if you’re without power, trust me on this – that cell phone battery will come in HANDY. Conserve it.

Once you’ve gotten word out that yes, you’ve been hit, and yes, you’re alive, it’s time to use social media as the wonderful tool it can be. To this day, I have NO idea how we would have gotten through it all without Twitter, especially.

– Ask questions. For us, I needed to find out information about tree milling / removal. Rather than waste my battery searching sites, I put the question out to my wonderful “hive mind”, and could follow up with the leads that were messaged to me. It saved me a lot of precious time, and it saved my battery. I asked for hotel recommendations that would allow cats.

Know that there are people out there who are watching the coverage of what you are going through, and even being able to look up resources for someone involved lets them feel like they can HELP.

– Ask for volunteers. When we were hit, there was no way we’d have been able to get the rubble/trees cleared by ourselves, and the organized city help didn’t come until two weeks after the fact. When we put out the call for help, not only were friends willing to stop by and chip in, we had a couple friends-of-friends show up as well.

– Once you’ve figured out what you need, put it out there. You will be asked a million times about what someone can do, if you need donations of anything, etc. Make a list, post it to a blog/facebook / give it to someone who has a blog. It will help people help you, and again – will save you time, and battery power. Also, my friend Char would like to add: “Don’t stress about paying back favors; pay them forward to someone else who needs help”.

– Vent if you need to. Tornadoes are TOTAL bullshit, the experience is horrible, and really… letting off some steam out on the internet is a lot better than letting it out at your spouse.

4. Start a Notebook.

Right after the tornado, we bought a zip up binder with pockets in it, and put it to good use. Write EVERYTHING down, you never know what will come in handy later.

Write down important dates. When did your construction start? When did WHAT get fixed? How long were you in the hotel? All of this can come in handy later, and your memory of the events in the weeks following the tornado will get fuzzy.

Save ALL your receipts, no matter how insignificant. Bought bottled water or lunch for your cleanup volunteers? Save the receipt! You never know what you’ll need for financial records down the road, and it’s better to be over prepared than missing something.

For us, our insurance covered FAR less than the actual damage ($90k insurance, $150k+ in damages… not including my car, the yard, the tree, or hotel stay for the several weeks that the house wasn’t liveable). When we looked at getting a government disaster loan, we hadn’t managed to save absolutely EVERY receipt, and it came back to haunt us later. I know it’s easy enough to consider a receipt insignificant at the time, but trust me – they add up FAST.

5. Be Prepared to Encounter the LOWEST Forms of “Humanity”.

Vultures. They still make my blood boil, to this day. Within hours of the tornado, we had crews of sales people descending on the area, signs under their arms, just littering the area with their advertising.

We had door to door salesmen that same afternoon… and I’m still surprised I never ended up ACTUALLY assaulting someone. (I did tell one that if he took one more step up my sidewalk, I would punch him right in the face).

While I was cleaning the broken windshields out of my car, just MINUTES after finding out that the car was going to “live” (we’d just cut it out from under the big tree that landed on it), some jackass drove up and offered to “do me a favor” and give me $100 for it.

These people can make you come pretty close to homicidal. Trust me on this. I’m pretty sure that the fact that I don’t yet have citizenship was the only thing that kept me from ripping at LEAST one head off with my bare hands.

Pretty late in the game, I picked up a box of water balloons, filled them, and put them in a basket by the door. Somehow, this – almost magically – kept them away. It was like some twisted Murphy’s Law addendum. If I had my time back, I would have set up for water balloons early. Not only would it be a quick way to get them off what remains of your property, it would be good for the sanity, and keep some of those homicidal ideations at bay.

6. Check out your Contractor before Paying.

We had our own issues with a contractor – signing the contract, paying the deposit, then having them try to add a ton of extra stuff afterwards, abuse me on my front lawn, and then walk out of the contract. All we wanted was for them to do what was on the contract, at the price quoted.

For us, it was hard to get someone out to even quote the job. We refused to hire the vultures that I mentioned earlier, and – in this area – racial and class issues scared off a LOT of the potential contracting companies. I lost track of the excuses that were made to avoid coming into “that area” for work. It made it hard NOT to just sign the first person that was willing to quote it… being without a roof will make a person do desperate things.

A friend that I’ve made since the tornado, Jen of Prior Fat Girl went through a similar thing:

“I wish we’d listened to the advice of checking out a contractor before paying. Work still not finished. 90% of the way done.”

7. Try to Take Care of Yourself.

It is REALLY easy to either not eat at all, forget to drink water, or just grab whatever junk is available. Trust us on this, the work that needs to be done will be a LOT easier if you try to get a decent night’s sleep, enough water, and proper food. Also… WEAR SUNSCREEN.

8. Get Strategic with your Purchases

Let me be clear here – if I NEVER see the inside of a Menards again as long as I live… I’ll be happier for it. I don’t even want to know how many times we were at Menards this summer, or how many (TENS OF THOUSANDS of) dollars we spent there as the result of having to DIY a lot of our repairs.

BUT… if you plan things, Menards can be a great way to save money on your repair bills. We had the Menards credit card, which put 2% of everything we bought into a rebate at the end of the year. Even though we had insurance cash for our purchases, we put EVERYTHING on the card, and paid it off minutes later. (There were days we made multiple trips to Menards!) That 2% adds up FAST when you’re recovering from a disaster situation.

Another thing that really helped out was the 11% rebate program they had this summer, and seem to have every once in a while. When it came, we made a list of EVERY big purchase we’d be needing in the next few months, and bought it all during that sale. I mean, even the stuff we weren’t ready for. When we had a choice, we opted for items that also had a rebate, and the stacked rebates added up quickly. DEFINITELY try and time your future repair purchases around sales like that, if at all possible.

The $500ish rebate check we received from that one sale went a LONG way towards purchasing other stuff since, and will also help when we need to landscape this coming spring.

This has been an unpaid, unsolicited comment, by the way. Menards is where we went, as it was close… other places may have similar offerings, but I’m only really familiar with Menards.

Seriously, Menards.. You need to start a VIP program after events like a tornado. Putting a martini in my hand as soon as you saw us coming, and offering up foot rubs while we waited at the order desk would have made the whole tornado experience a bit more pleasant 🙂

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That’s about it for what we could come up with. If you’re reading this… anything to add?

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, North Minneapolis was devastated by a tornado. Twisted recounts the Porters’ first 11 months, post disaster. Rebuilding their house, working around the challenges presented by inadequate insurance coverage. Frustration at repeated bouts of incompetence and greed from their city officials. Dealing with issues such as loss of control, logistics, change, and over-stimulation, as an Aspergian woman.

Subjects covered include: Opportunistic “Vultures”, gawkers, new friendships, a bizarre gingerbread house, unique decisions made with the rebuild – including an internet-famous kitchen backsplash, “Tornado Claus”, contractor drama, water balloons, DIY design and work, music, sensory overload, and details on how to cook jambalaya for almost 300 people, in the parking lot of a funeral home… should you ever find yourself in the position to do so. Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

Author:Marie Porter

Marie is an award winning cake artist based in Minnesota's Twin Cities. Known as much for her delicious and diverse flavor menu as for her sugar artistry, Marie's work has graced magazines and blogs around the world. Having baked and designed for brides, celebrities, and even Klingons, Marie was proud to share her wealth of baking knowledge in her two cookbooks: "The Spirited Baker" and “Evil Cake Overlord”. Marie has also authored a book about her experiences surrounding the 2011 Minneapolis tornado: "Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir"

3 Responses to “So… You’ve Been Hit by a Tornado.”

  1. March 6, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Contractor bags come in a variety of thicknesses, so pay attention to that instead of the “HEAVY DUTY” or whatever label.

  2. Chris B. Critter
    March 6, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Along with keeping your receipts, keep copies of your receipts. If you don’t already have one, get a portable scanner (at least 8 1/2 inches wide) and a laptop computer. As often as possible, scan all your receipts. It takes up very little space, and it’s a good backup for paper. Some scanners don’t need to be hooked up to a computer; they just need an SD card. The scanner can also be used to back up copies of pictures which are given to you.

  3. March 6, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Great list!

    The taking care of yourself item is very important! Recovering from the damage will be a long, stressful process. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, it will make it even more stressful.

    If you can’t scan your receipts, take a picture with your camera or phone. It helps with backup. There are also phone apps for your receipts, meant for businesses, but they can be used for anything.

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