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The slow rebuild

Photo by Brian Hansel Caseworker Wendy Molstad, left, construction manager Tom Roline and Wadena-Otter Tail Long Term Recovery Committee member Del Moen are three of the key players behind the effort to deal with losses caused by the June 17, 2010 tornadoes that swept through the area.1 / 2
Photo by Brian Hansel A pair of Bethany Reformed Church volunteers from Clara City, Minn. rebuild a porch on a damaged residence in Wadena during the first week of April. Bethany is one of many churches that is assisting the Wadena-Otter Tail Long Term Recovery Committee in restoring families to their homes after last year's devastating tornadoes.2 / 2

When the June 17 tornadoes hit eastern Otter Tail County and left a long, deep scratch on Wadena, they left behind anguish, destruction and millions of dollars worth of damage.

The need to cope with the disaster led to the birth of the Wadena-Otter Tail Long Term Recovery Committee. Insurance did not meet the full needs of many tornado victims, according to WOTLTR caseworker Wendy Molstad. Others had no insurance, period. The committee, which consists of members of the Wadena-area community, found themselves with a mission.

Ten months after the wave of twisters skipped through the area the committee finds itself with 150 clients and around $1.2 million in unmet needs, which are monetary figures that either a client's insurance or their own resources cannot cover. There were also people that had plenty of insurance but were left holding the bag because it was depreciation value insurance.

"Say your roof right now is 10 years old and the roof would get ripped off you might only get $5,500 to put a new roof on," said Molstad.

Donations fund the work the committee. Churches have been leading the way but the donations also come from service organizations, businesses and private parties. The donations do not always come in the form of cash. Food, water and other necessities have also been received.

Molstad's job is to meet with all of the clients, assess resources and start the ball rolling.

"Our goal is to get everyone back in a safe and sanitary home," said Molstad.

Molstad has also lined up help farmers who had tornado debris land in their fields. What they needed were hands to walk the fields and clear the debris so the farmer could return to farming.

Once Molstad has made her determination she calls construction supervisor Tom Roline, who takes a look at the job and determines if it is a job he can tackle how much help he will need. He then calls Tanya Nelson, the volunteer coordinator of the committee, and she goes to work lining up volunteers by accessing a number of websites that offer volunteer help.

One such group is the Bethany Reformed Church of Clara City, Minn.

The Bethany group got its start when a generous family in the congregation volunteered to spring for a fully-enclosed trailer and carpentry tools. Group leader Chuck Ammermann recalls spending $20,000 on their first shopping trip for tools. The Bethany group consists of retirees and others who take time off from their jobs to volunteer their time.

Wadena is not the first city where they have worked. They were also in Rushford, Minn. a few years ago when the southern Minnesota town was devastated by a flood. Their willingness to help goes beyond just labor. They all have the option of submitting their gas slips. To date, Ammermann has never collected any slips.

"We have people coming and going," said Ammermann, a retired building contractor who moves from site to site and even handles some projects on his own. While some of the Bethany volunteers drive up for a day, others have stayed overnight in Wadena and have been housed at the Episcopal Church.

Ammermann enjoys the work because it does not include many of the headaches that being a private contractor does. His attitude toward volunteer work is the same as many of his friends.

"We're on this earth for only one purpose and that is to help our fellow man," Ammermann said.

Molstad has found that a lot of people "follow" disasters, not for profit, but out of a desire to help.

"There are groups like that all over the county that this is what they do," Molstad said. "Everybody knows that it is strictly volunteer."

Molstad has been struck by just how generous some people can be.

"We just had one, a retired contractor from South Dakota, who has a backhoe and skid loader and a crew and cash and he's going to come up and help," Molstad said. "This is truly work that is amazing and you are just never the same again once you do it."

Records show that more than 1,600 volunteer hours have been recorded by people since last summer. Thousands more went unrecorded from mid-June to August until Molstad came on board. Many more volunteer hours will be turned in this spring and summer as 57 projects are tackled around the area by volunteers. The small east Otter Tail town of Almora will be the focus of a rebuilding effort in June when the first anniversary of the tornado comes along.