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The May 22nd Tornado: One Month Later

Stories of looting have become stories of neighbors helping neighbors.

One month ago today, my husband and I were in the car, listening to the radio.  The meteorologist was talking about a severe weather watch and the funnel cloud in Maple Grove the night before.  There was a little light rain as we headed north on highway 100, but we had no idea that just minutes after we drove past the Tyrol Hills neigbhorhood, .

I was about 33 weeks pregnant, and we were just getting back from a brief hospital visit that Sunday afternoon when it seemed the skies just opened up and dumped buckets of rain on us as we ran for the front door of our house.  We live right on the border of Golden Valley and Minneapolis next to , and as Nate fumbled with the keys to the door, I remember saying loudly, "What in the world?"

It had barely made it into the 70s and we figured this was one of those pop-up summer storms, but after a few minutes inside, we heard an eerie noise - almost like a suffering animal - coming from outside.  We stared out the front door as the wind howled for all of ten to 20 seconds.  Then everything stopped, and the tornado sirens sounded.  

We had no idea that just blocks from our house, which hadn't been touched, , and lives were devastatingly changed.  As I tried to get Internet service to post the news to Golden Valley Patch, I asked my husband to take a quick drive around to see what was going on outside.

Five minutes later Nate came into the living room and said, "You will never believe what happened."  Nate is a news producer for WCCO-TV, and the two of us have been in television news for most of our adult lives.  So when something like storm damage amazes us, it's a big deal.

I grabbed my cameras, called my regional editor - who had Internet access, and walked a few blocks to where no car would be traveling for a few days.  At more than seven months pregnant, it was difficult to simply get from one end of a block to another, but I couldn't stop walking and talking with neighbors.

I think about that first hour after the tornado hit.  Many folks in Golden Valley had significant storm damage, and anyone who's been through Theodore Wirth Park knows how hard it was hit, too.

But what sticks in my mind are the blocks and blocks and blocks of damage to our neighbors just a few address numbers to the east of Golden Valley.  (I edited video of what I saw that day and posted it for the first time today).

There were no chain saws yet, and even before the sound of the news helicopters came the sounds of neighbors and family members.  I wrote down whatever I heard, and here's a sampling from my notes:

"Did you call your sister? Is she OK?"

"We checked all the houses on our side, and everyone's safe."

"Thank you, Jesus, we're all gonna be OK." 

"What are we gonna do?  What are we gonna do?  Look at this! We have to use our window to get in and out of the house!"

"I saw the three punks who usually sit on that corner trying to intimidate the neighborhood, but they were crying like little boys just now."

I watched as people came out of their houses, just trying to wrap their minds around what happened and making sure friends, neighbors and strangers were safe.

Most of these folks didn't have electricity for a few days, so they didn't get to see some of the reports on TV that night.  A curfew was put into place, and one local TV station declared it was because of looting.  True, one store had been robbed, but power lines were everywhere, and you couldn't make it down some streets on foot - which was the real story that night. 

"It took them five seconds to make us sound like criminals and heathens," Betsy Green, who lives near Upton and 16th Ave. N, says.  "There were two headlines that came from May 22nd - the terrible Joplin tornado and looting in North Minneapolis."

Sure enough, words like tornado and Minneapolis were trending on Twitter, but so was the word looting.

"I thought I'd see people running down the street with 50-inch TVs and store fronts kicked in," says Michael Jenkins, who lives across the street from Theodore Wirth Park and whose garage was smashed by a tree.  "I was so angry that the news missed the big picture.  Our neighbors were hurting.  We were hurting.  This wasn't a time to be sensationalizing.  It was already sensational."

As editor of Golden Valley Patch, I received numerous phone calls and emails from people both in north Minneapolis and in Golden Valley reacting to the tornado.  The two most common observations?  First, the tornado sirens were practically worthless in giving any kind of significant warning that a deadly tornado was threatening.  Second, many people were offended by how residents in north Minneapolis were portrayed as criminals instead of neighbors who just suffered a great loss.

Patch is still looking into what happened with the tornado sirens, and if you'd like to weigh in, I'd encourage you to send me an email.

As for the looting and the way north Minneapolis was portrayed, Patch had initially set out to investigate some of the statements made by the local media.  But here's the thing.  Every time we'd talk with residents of Golden Valley or north Minneapolis, we'd move right to the subject of neighbor helping neighbor.

For the most part, no one had time to complain about how they appeared in the local media.  They were clearing property, volunteering and finding creative ways to raise money for people who lost it all.

From the family who T-Shirts to raise money to the thousands of people coming out for Clean Sweep day, the people in and near the hardest hit areas are choosing to tell their own story.

"We don't have to prove anything to anybody except ourselves," Jenkins says.  "I don't care what a news anchor says, I care what my neighbor three blocks down says after we help her rebuild her front porch."

Betsy Green echoes that sentiment.  "Week after week we see people coming into our neighborhood just to give out food or help people rebuild.  I'm proud to live here, and I'm proud to have great neighbors who look past the rumors so we can all move forward together.  I used to think Golden Valley was just another suburb, but it means a lot to know how much those folks care."

Whether you live blocks or miles from the tornado damage, there's still a lot you can do to continue to help.

You can make a donation to the Minneapolis Foundation, buy a red "Rebuild North Minneapolis" T-Shirt, donate to the Salvation Army or Red Cross or you can sign up for another Clean Sweep Day in Minneapolis this Saturday.

Editor's Note: Minnetonka Patch editor Katelynn Metz produced the video segment for this story.

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