Remembering: Connection through resilience

The direction and damage of the May 22, 2011 tornado through Camden.

Intro: It’s been 10 years since the May 22, 2011 tornado hit our Camden Community. It damaged 3,700 properties across the Northside, and two people, David Whitfield and Rob McIntyre, lost their lives in the tornado and its aftermath.

The City of Minneapolis issued 2,847 repair permits and $28 million were spent on property reparations as of one year after the tornado. Of the 3700 damaged properties, 206 properties sustained major damage and 192 of those properties were repaired, demolished, or the work was still pending. The City issued property orders to 1,029 properties and of those, 823 were resolved. Additionally, 160 households received more than $750,000 in loans and free assistance, which helped repair 50 roofs. The City’s Business Recovery Loan Program made $117,000 in loans to 27 businesses. In all, about $1.9 million in assistance was provided to those affected by the tornado through loans, Minneapolis City assistance, state and federal dollars, and the assistance of non-profit organizations that worked with the recovery efforts. Perhaps the most remarkable numbers are those attributed to the people and the hours of selfless service they gave to the recovery efforts. Those numbers are immeasurable.

The tornado destroyed 2,400 boulevard trees and 3,425 park trees in Wirth, Folwell, Webber and North Mississippi Regional Parks; a span of 3.5 miles. In addition to the arbor losses, the Minneapolis Parks sustained property damages at Wirth Beach, Wirth Golf Course, Willard Park building, Webber Park Recreation Center and pool building, and the Folwell Park shelter. In all, the cost of damages to the Minneapolis Parks was over $525,000 dollars. On the upside the Park Board, with the help of volunteers, planted 275 trees in Folwell Park, and started planting  3,100 more trees in parks and on boulevards in North Minneapolis. Additionally, in a collaboration between the City, the Tree Trust, Minneapolis Park Board and State Farm Insurance, another 400 free trees were available for individuals who lost trees. Many of these are ornamental flowering trees, provided by an anonymous $50,000 gift to the Rob McIntyre Fund at Tree Trust.  

It’s funny how we mark time and the things we remember. While I was writing this article the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial went into deliberations; our city and country waited with bated breath. The next day, April 20, the jury returned guilty verdicts for Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. This will be a moment we will never forget. And so the question remains, what are the experiences we will remember and how will they transform our lives?

Ten years ago on May 22 a tornado ripped through North Minneapolis and our little corner in Folwell was ravished much like many other parts of the Camden Community. It destroyed garages, took the tops off of houses, and uprooted thousands of trees. The debris went far and wide, spewing broken glass and furniture onto neighboring blocks and yards, and scattering parts of houses onto the streets. Outside, clothes hung on tree branches, while inside tree branches littered floors and debris clinging to walls. In a moment, the world turned upside down.

It’s funny what we remember. I can close my eyes and be transported back to that day 10 years ago when my (now) teenagers were toddlers. I can see the deep grey skies, watching the trees instantly bend flexing as if they did yoga. I remember hearing the glass shattering, my kids screaming as we rushed them down the dark basement stairs as the power went out. I remember being so focused on their safety and concern for them, that I didn’t realize the impact I carried in my own body from this until a year later. 

I remember I couldn’t put my one-year-old daughter down because all of our windows had blown out and there was glass everywhere inside and outside. There were shingles sticking straight out of the grass, and someone’s yellowish orange couch landed on our front lawn.

Beyond the visual tangible pieces I hold, what has stayed with me the most however is the incredible way our community came together to take care of one another. It is really easy to go about your life and never connect with the folks that live by you. The ones you wave to as you get in your car parked in front of your home, or while you pass their house while out on a walk. But then, when we were all cut off from the outside world with no electricity or phone lines for over a week, all we had was each other.

I watched and joined as neighbors came out to knock on every door and checked to make sure every person in each home survived. That elders, babies and disabled were safe. We went block by block. Those who had chainsaws started to clear streets so emergency vehicles could come through. People started sharing generators, boards, tools, food, water. The neighborhood gathered up to put one another first.

I remember sitting at our kitchen table that dreadful night, with no electricity and no view outside because there were boards on every window. We were locked in and under lock down. There were still tree branches and leaves and glass all over our living room. We wiped down our table from glass and let it fall to the floor to join the rest of the windows that were shattered. We pulled food from our fridge that was starting to go bad. The weight of what happened settling on us.

We had just experienced a tornado. Houses hit and our block nearly destroyed. Our neighbor’s garage laying on its side in our backyard. We were sitting in candlelight looking at one another wondering, “Where do we go from here?”

The next few weeks found us moving slowly, navigating the aftermath and searching for resources. We watched as outside groups and agencies came in to offer support. Yet, more than anything, it was gathering with neighbors and helping one another before and after those agencies clocked out from work and went to their homes. We had each other, and I believe it was a beautiful way to build and repair. We sewed hope together with whatever scraps were left, and with that we were OK.

I felt so connected to my neighbors in those days and weeks. It is a feeling I never want to leave, yet do not want just destructive external circumstances to be the reason we care for one another. The spirit of togetherness, compassion, shared resources, and support should be the foundation of healthy and safe neighborhoods.

The 2001 tornado changed the face of our neighborhood. Trees, houses, empty lots, missing garages. We see the scars. The scars are left behind on the landscape and imprinted in our spirits. Yet the collective struggle is the foundation for our collective resilience.