Clean-up, repairs underway after April tornado in Windham

Tom Silver watching his son, Tom Jr. (Tucker), and friend, Michael Rouse, demolish the deck that sat in front of the old mobile home in order to make room for the new mobile home. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

The Portage County Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross were prompt in reaching out to victims of the April 17 tornado that took Windham by surprise.

There were 35 homes that were damaged by the tornado, nine of which were in need of immediate financial assistance to either stabilize a structure or to relocate inhabitants to alternate locations. Only one home was uninsured.

The EMA was on-site at 7:30 p.m that night, and remained in Windham Township until the situation stabilized. Detailed damage assessment began the next day.

“Most of the homes that were destroyed or impacted, or heavily impacted, we visited.” Portage County Emergency Management Director Ryan Shackelford said. “We did our damage assessment, then we went back to every single home, all 35 homes, with Red Cross and they opened the cases of the ones that kind of met the criteria.”

“Solid Waste District, Windham Township, Windham Village and mutual aid township resources were instrumental in getting the debris removed,” Shackelford said.

William Sears stands in front of his mangled mobile home. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

Portage County Emergency Management was also instrumental in getting debris removed from the roads and people’s yards, as well as making sure houses were safe and power was restored to the neighborhood.

Shackelford said there are a couple of homes that need to be completely knocked down and rebuilt, and there are six homes in total that will require expensive rehabilitation; the agency is currently navigating and consolidating the situation to make it as easy on homeowners as possible.

“Primarily, the only big gap that we had was insurance companies not doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Shackelford said. “They’re starting to roll in, so we’re good there, but it was a real frustration in the beginning.”

From the onset, the agency advocated for and provided referrals to victims, connecting them with community resources to help with their recovery journey.

The Red Cross was integral in advocating on behalf of the families, helping them navigate the insurance process and providing relief.

“We initially helped nine households with immediate financial assistance, which means we gave them money to use as they saw fit, whether it was for emergency lodging, a hotel room or to replace clothing loss or other personal items,” said Jim McIntyre, regional communications director for the American Red Cross. “They’re free to use the money as appropriate for them.”

In preparation to accept a new mobile home, Tom Silver and his son, Tom Jr. (Tucker), uproot posts from an old deck in order to make room for a new mobile home. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

Navigating insurance claims has been a stumbling block for some families.

“Many of them have insurance, but that’s been a challenge for some of them, so we did some advocacy with their insurance agents for a couple of families,” McIntyre said. “We’re still in contact with six of those families, so we’re still trying to help them forge a path forward following their devastating losses.”

Tom Silver’s home on Windham-Parkman Road was one of six homes that will require expensive repairs. He’s lived there with his wife for over 30 years.

“The Red Cross helped out,” Silver said. “I’ve been eating breakfast on them. The Lions Club gave us some debit cards; I’m gonna buy some wheelbarrows and stuff with that. The township was very helpful with removing a lot of the trees that fell, especially the ones close to the road. Everybody’s been pretty helpful.”

William Sears, a friend of Silver’s, was living in a mobile home on Silver’s property until the tornado uprooted it and wrapped it around an adjacent building.

“There was a three-bedroom, two-bath mobile home sitting there, and it just wiped it out in seconds,” Sears said. “There really wasn’t much to save. I lost a coin that my dad got all of us kids when he was working. He’d travel and go to different places and weld; that’s irreplaceable. I lost a gold chain that my grandmother gave me that had a cross on it. Everything else I had was materialistic. You can replace it.”

On Sunday, May 12, Silver purchased a new mobile home to replace the one that Sears was living in, which Silver will live in with his wife until their home gets restored to a liveable state. Sears is staying with family in Twinsburg until then.

Jeremy Brown
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