Residents ‘almost’ back to normal

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle Ron Simonton from Reed Roofing and Construction looks over tornado damage at David Saylor’s house. “I like to think we’re ahead of schedule. We’ve only been working on it a week and a half,” said Simonton. According to Simonton about 50 percent of th

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

To someone who didn’t know better, it might seem like a normal residential street. Richard McDonald bends over his lawnmower, the smell of freshly hewn grass filling the air. An orange gas can gradually tips forward as he fills the tank.

Closer inspection yields inconsistencies in the picture.

Across the street, a driveway brushes against a set of concrete stairs leading to an abandoned field. Sheets of siding outlined by duct tape cover the windows of McDonald’s home while plastic sheets over a nearby roof flutter in the steady breeze.

The view, once obscured by homes, now gives way to glimpses of U.S. Highway 70 in the near distance.

Monday marks the one-month anniversary of the devastating tornado that ripped through his and several other quiet Clovis streets, leaving destruction in its wake.

Past weeks have been filled with work, McDonald said: cleanup, roof repairs, painting and more.

With a wide smile across his face as he looks at his home, he said it will be better than it was before the tornado.

“Everything is almost back to normal,” he said, shifting the bill of his ball cap. “It just takes time.”

McDonald and his wife, Tina Rolan, said they have no plans to draw on disaster assistance programs, preferring to see others receive the help.

“We’re awful doggone lucky,” Rolan said. Pointing to properties around her, she listed the damage suffered by her neighbors — houses obliterated, damaged homes with no insurance, injuries and the deaths of two elderly residents. It is those people to whom her heart goes out, she said.

“This is just material stuff, and we can fix it up,” she said. “We had a lot of family and relatives help us. … Let FEMA help the people that really need it.”

It is the members of the community who have lingering, unmet needs officials are most concerned about.

Immediate, emergency needs have been met and disaster assistance is being geared toward lingering issues. All are in agreement: It will take time to heal the community’s wounds.

Clovis residents have been approved for well over a million dollars in grants and loans from disaster assistance agencies.

Terry Wells, Federal Emergency Management Agency public information officer, said approximately $670,000 in grant money has been approved and more than $400,000 in loans have been granted by the U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Recovery Agency.

FEMA will remain available, he said, though as traffic dwindles, the disaster center will transition to an SBA loan outreach office. April 30, SBA will take over the center located at Lincoln Jackson Family Center with a FEMA representative on hand for assistance.

Though residents should still begin by registering with FEMA, the agency may not meet all of their needs, Wells said, explaining that is where other agencies and local efforts step in.

“FEMA is not the agency that’s going to cause 100 percent recovery. We’re a helping hand,” Wells said.

Bridging gaps between assistance and insurance coverage and actual loss is now the goal for local agencies, United Way Executive Director Erinn Burch said. Experts estimate 10 to 15 percent of disaster victims will have uncovered expenses, she said. She estimated at least a quarter of a million dollars will be needed.

“We need to get all those expenses under control, or those expenses will weigh down this community one way or another,” Burch said. “It is imperative that the community doesn’t let that 10 to 15 percent hang indefinitely.”

In an effort to address those needs, Eastern New Mexico Disaster Recovery Council has been formed, said Burch, who serves as vice chair.

Through trained case managers, the council will identify individuals who have lingering needs and will find community resources to address them, Burch said.

Nicole Thompson, the local American Red Cross manager, is also involved in the council. She said services provided up to this point have been focused on immediate needs. Rental deposit assistance and first month’s rent are examples of some of the services provided, she said, estimating the Red Cross has put about $150, 000 into the community.

“Where do they go after that?” Thompson said. “We’re not pulling out. Their emergency immediate needs have been addressed so we’re focusing on those long-term issues.”

Thompson estimated the community will continue to feel the residual effects of the tornado for a year or more.
“It’s difficult for people to pick up the pieces,” she said.

A majority of those affected by the storm were already economically challenged, said Salvation Army Capt. Tammy Ray, contributing to the long-term recovery issues the community may face.

“Tornados are no respecters of persons or economic background. There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” she said.

“Unfortunately a lot of the people that were affected were from lower economic positions. They tend to be a vulnerable population anyway,” she said.

It is estimated more than 500 local homes and businesses were affected, she said.

Ken De Los Santos, Clovis and Curry County emergency management director, said officials will not be able to place a dollar amount on overall area damages until the numbers have all come in.

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said cleanup is complete with the exception of the Baxter-Curren Senior Center, where roof damage occurred. Authorization from the city’s insurance carrier was received recently and repairs will begin as soon as possible, he said.
“The majority of the cleanup has been completed,” Thomas said. “I guess you could say we’re finished.”

The city is preparing to apply for state assistance, made possible through the disaster declaration, Thomas said, estimating more than half a million dollars in costs ranging from rescue and recovery responses to damaged signs and structures associated with the tornado. The estimate may rise as costs are still being identified, he said.

“I think there’s certainly been a lot of progress made in the last (29) days,” Thomas said. “It was devastating to some people and families, and we certainly realize that, and it’s imperative that we don’t lose sight of that.

“There are still needs and issues that need to be dealt with and will be for some time.”

How to help
•The Salvation Army has been overwhelmed with item donations, Capt. Tammy Ray said. The best way for people to help at this point is through monetary donations. “I can honestly say we’re good for right now. If people want to continue to donate funds we want to encourage the United Way fund – that’s the focal point,” she said. United Way of Eastern New Mexico’s address is P.O. Box 806, Clovis, NM 88101.
• Curry County Disaster Recovery Center, Lincoln Jackson Family Center: Open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. The center will begin closing at 6 p.m. and will operate Monday through Saturday. The office will reopen as the SBA Disaster Loan Outreach Center from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday as of April 30.