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Rybak: N. Mpls. Faces Short-Term Housing Challenges

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minneapolis faces serious short-term housing challenges because of a tornado that made at least 116 homes unlivable and damaged hundreds of others on the city’s north side, the mayor said Tuesday.

The extent of the housing needs caused by Sunday’s tornado weren’t immediately known, because many people had been staying with relatives or in houses that won’t be inhabitable for the long term, Mayor R.T. Rybak said.

“We’re going to be facing some real serious challenges short-term, especially with some of these folks who are in rental situations, where it’s unclear how their housing is going to be rebuilt,” Rybak said. “There were many people who were frankly just holding on, who may be slipping into homelessness. And we want to do everything we can to prevent that.”

Gov. Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency for the Twin Cities, directing state agencies to help local governments respond to the disaster. The city and county set up a one-day makeshift assistance center at the convention center downtown for displaced residents on Tuesday.

The center provided information about insurance, housing and other needs. Cathy ten Broeke, the director of the office to end homelessness for Minneapolis and Hennepin County, said more than 1,200 people had come to the convention center by the end of the day.

“I think people, they’re frustrated and grateful for something like this, where everything is together in one place,” ten Broeke said. “There’s hope, but I think everyone is really worn out.”

Inside the convention center, Timothy and Rakisha Hayden tended to their 11-month-old son and 2-year-old daughter after leaving the damaged home they rent in north Minneapolis. The house had shattered windows, a broken fence and water leaking through the roof, and many of their belongings were damaged. The couple doesn’t have renter’s insurance.

They came to the center for food and to get a new identification card since Timothy Hayden lost his wallet in the disaster. When asked what they planned to do Tuesday night, he said “we really don’t know.” He said he and his wife, both 21, were thinking about the Salvation Army, and for the long term would “probably try to move in with a few family members.”

People were able to get food, as well as mental and physical health care, and be connected to shelters. Many people got their prescriptions renewed. They could also get legal assistance and insurance help — though ten Broeke said many people weren’t seeking insurance claims. Officials were also helping people get birth certificates or state IDs to replace those lost in the storm. There was also a room where residents could use the phone or get Internet access.

Similar resources were being set up at a recovery center at Fairview Park that Rybak called a one-stop shop for everything people might need, from shelter information to clothing.

About 800 volunteers were working in teams, knocking on doors to try to connect people with services.

Authorities said Tuesday that the tornado caused an estimated $166 million in damage, and that figure was expected to rise. Crews were going block-by-block clearing debris.

Rep. Joe Mullery, D-St. Paul, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would begin damage assessments Thursday. He said officials would go door-to-door and assess the level of need in the area, which could be indicated by poverty levels and numbers of single-parent households.

City inspectors said Tuesday that 1,819 homes sustained “serious structural damage,” said city spokesman Casper Hill. That means the homes had damage that would require a permit with the city to fix, such as a roof replacement. Another 116 homes were damaged to the point where they were considered uninhabitable. He said that number could still change.

“We haven’t fully gotten the full extent of what’s going to happen because the tough people of north Minneapolis have toughed it out and we deeply appreciate it,” Rybak said. “But over time, they’re going to recognize they can’t always stay with their relatives, that can’t always be staying in a hotel, they can’t always be staying in a house that may be substandard. So we don’t know the full extent of how many people are going to be having hosing needs going forward.”

More than 260 people stayed at the shelter at the Northeast Armory on Sunday night, hours after the tornado swept through north Minneapolis. But by Monday night that number was down to 61, as people went elsewhere.

More than two dozen families with children moved into the Drake Hotel downtown.

Xcel Energy had 400 people working to restore power to homes on Tuesday. At midday, 7,000 people were still without power, said Paul Adelmann, an Xcel Energy spokesman.

Xcel Energy spokesman Steve Roalstad said the utility needs to rebuild the electricity infrastructure from the ground up in some areas. The storm snapped roughly 200 power poles.

When power is restored, he said, about 20 percent of homes would likely be too damaged to get electricity. He said homeowners may need to call electricians to fix broken masts and Xcel hopes to have power restored to homes that can accept it by Thursday.

CenterPoint Energy said it had stopped more than 100 gas leaks and was working to restore gas to properties where it had been cut off.

By midday Tuesday, all of the roads had been deemed passable, meaning emergency vehicles could go through. The City Council also met in emergency session and extended the local disaster declaration, which allowed the city to tap special funds to pay for tornado cleanup.

Six of the seven Minneapolis schools in the area reopened Tuesday, and one remained closed because it lacked power, the district said.

The Animal Humane Society also said it was standing by to help displaced residents house their pets, and it was using an online Lost and Found Bulletin Board to help connect owners with lost pets.

On Sunday, the tornado ripped a nearly five-mile path from suburban St. Louis Park, where it hit a condo complex and two businesses, through north Minneapolis and into Fridley.

The National Weather Service said the tornado was either a strong EF1 or possibly an EF2, and was on the ground for 6.25 miles in Hennepin County plus an additional 8 miles across Anoka and Ramsey counties. An EF1 tornado has speeds of up to 109 mph. An EF2 has speeds of 110-137 mph.

Authorities said one man died in the storm and another died helping clear debris afterward. Dozens were injured, but all had been released from the hospital by Tuesday afternoon.

The tornado was part of a larger outbreak through the central U.S. that included Joplin, Mo., where dozens of people were killed, and La Crosse, Wis.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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