Granite Falls recovered from 2000 tornado
Ten years after their own EF-4 tornado, the southwest central Minnesota town of Granite Falls has mostly recovered.
Dave Smiglewski, the mayor of Granite Falls since 1996, saw the town through the July 25, 2000 tornado and the long rebuilding process.
"The town has largely been rebuilt," he said.
Smiglewski, who is also the publisher of the Granite Falls Advocate-Tribune, said that the 2000 tornado caused one fatality, a number of injuries, about 67 houses destroyed and about 300 houses damaged.
Like Wadena, Granite Falls has a two-year college. That facility had some roof damage which was quickly repaired, he said.
Smiglewski said that they did not have to deal with the loss of a high school, but they had a 50-bed residential chemical dependency treatment center which was destroyed.
Now rebuilt, it has been expanded to more than 70 beds and employs about 100 people.
"It is a pretty big deal in a small town," he said.
But the rebuilding process all over town was not easy.
"We had folks that dealt with their loss in a lot of different ways and I'm sure that's going on in Wadena," Smiglewski said.
Smiglewski said that some people in Granite Falls dealt with the grief of the loss right away and then moved on with repairs and rebuilding, while others got right to moving on and then were hit with grief after they had finished rebuilding.
"Everybody has a different situation, everybody deals with this loss differently," Smiglewski said. "All those folks are going to have to somehow find their way back into what was normal, what will be normal again. There's a lot of different financial situations, insurance situations."
He said that as people were recovering from the tornado, many experienced feelings of guilt and frustration.
"You lose your house, you lose everything in it, and so does your neighbor, and then maybe somebody across the street is fine. And then they feel guilty because [they] didn't have much of a loss," he said. "Some people are mad because, 'Look, I suffered this huge loss and my neighbor is fine.' It's all very arbitrary. Tornadoes are strange that way."
He said that some people envied their neighbors who got a completely new house after the old one was destroyed.
"Those people paid a dear price for getting a new house, of course," Smiglewski said.
He said that, ultimately, the only population loss from the tornado was two households of retirees who chose to move closer to their families.
He said that the tornado-affected neighborhood was rearranged. Some homeowners who had to bulldoze their houses moved to the less affected part of town and sold the lot to neighbors on each side. Two houses stand where there once were three, he said.
He also said that they had to get aid from the state of Minnesota. Because St. Peter had a large tornado in 1998, they got ideas from that town as a template to ask for help in the next legislative session.
Volunteers helped rebuild the town, both in the aftermath of the tornado and also during 1997 and 2001 Red River flooding, he said.
"We really knew how to feed volunteers and take care of those guys," he joked. "We got to be really good friends with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross."
Smiglewski said that the first year after the tornado was the most intense.
"The one year anniversary date of the tornado, we had a large community picnic," he said.
That was a big deal then. Now, he said, people do not talk about the tornado as much.
"We were able to make some improvements in the community that will help us for a long time," he said.