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Tornado damage victims work toward rebuilding

Two damaged silos have been cleared out at Bob and Chris Barden's farm in Plover. Two months after a tornado cut through their property they haven't begun rebuilding. In one of the worst hit areas, Barden is hoping to begin rebuilding his main cow barn and two silos by the end of July. (AP Photo/The Stevens Point Journal, Nick Paulson)

Stevens Point Journal

TOWN OF BUENA VISTA, Wis. (AP) — The tornado that cut through Portage County in May shifted Donald Schmalzer’s house 5 inches on its foundation. The twisted windows leak when it rains, and he can feel the house move in big gusts of wind.

But as he cleans up the damage at his hobby farm on Highway BB, he still lives in the house while he argues with his insurance company about what should be covered by his policy. In addition to the house damage, he lost two pole barns, a silo, a barn and a pig shed.

Two months after the storm, farmers and homeowners still are dealing with the destruction the tornado caused, and the headaches that come with the cleanup and desire to rebuild.

They mix in repairs and cleanup with their daily lives, rising early before work and staying out in the yard until dark preparing the property for the rebuilding stage. They haggle with contractors and insurance agencies about quotes and coverage, fighting for the best deal. But mostly, they just try to move forward at a steady pace.

“It’s very stressful,” Schmalzer said. “We’re slowly cleaning up.”

The May 22 tornado that carved through the towns of Grant and Buena Vista caused about $1.75 million in damage to homes, farms and irrigation systems, according to Portage County Emergency Management officials.

About $250,000 of that was at Bob and Chris Barden’s farm on Eckels Road, Bob Barden estimated. In one of the worst hit areas, Barden is hoping to begin rebuilding his main cow barn and two silos by the end of July.

It took the Bardens a few weeks just to assess the damage. They only lost one cow from their herd of about 150, and no one was seriously hurt, but their feed stores were decimated.

The Bardens were planning to retire next year, but now aren’t sure exactly what direction to head. They could rebuild everything, but that also means spending four to five years getting the farm back on track. They also have considered selling some of the herd, downsizing and rebuilding only parts of the farm.

“You think of which way to go, and then you change your mind every day it seems,” Bob Barden said. “A good share (of the damage) is covered by insurance, but it depends on how much we decide to rebuild.”

Kathleen Nicholson sometimes drives by her house on Shady Drive without even realizing it is hers. After losing almost 10 acres of trees, the property more resembles the moon than the place she’s lived for 15 years.

“It’s quite eerie,” Nicholson said. “You look out there and are used to seeing trees.”

Kathleen and her husband, Mike, were able to salvage the pine trees, which they sold for pulp, and are nearing the final cleanup in their yard. They’ve replaced their swimming pool and air conditioner, and the grass is almost clear enough of glass, metal and shingles to mow.

But part of their house still is without a roof, the casualty of a disagreement between the insurance company and the roofer, so when it rains, they have a leaky bedroom ceiling.

They’ve also had to sacrifice weekends at their cabin to clean, and work in the morning, and again from noon, when Kathleen gets home from work, until nightfall in the yard.

“It’s frustrating. Every single day, we make a list, and we work on that, but it just takes so long,” Nicholson said. “Hopefully, we’re very close now to making the turn from the cleanup to the repair.”

Information from: Stevens Point Journal,

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