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Opinion

Guliani: How 19th Avenue has changed

The Mennonite Disaster Services team donates all its labor; the long-term recovery group pays for materials and throughout the disaster has secured much of its materials from Golden Rule Lumber.
The Mennonite Disaster Services team donates all its labor; the long-term recovery group pays for materials and throughout the disaster has secured much of its materials from Golden Rule Lumber.

A year after a tornado struck Naplate, the community is still healing. I wanted to see how much has changed.

On March 2, 2017, two days after the twister, I took a continuous video as I walked down one of the hardest hit streets, 19th Avenue. The town buzzed with activity. Work trucks lined the street. Noise from machinery did not stop.

As the old video shows, some of the houses sustained heavy damage, while others were barely touched.

Less than a week ago, I returned to take a new video, following the path of the original. It was hard to find the exact route because so much has changed. Some houses are completely rebuilt. In other cases, driveways lead to vacant lots where houses once stood.

Shortly after the tornado hit, a Times photographer and I showed up on 19th Avenue. There was a tangle of wires near one of its intersections. Emergency vehicles were arriving. People talked excitedly about what just happened. 

Beneath an awning at a nearby business, Debbie Loughridge told me her house was near Center Street and 19th Avenue.

"Every window is broken. Everything is totaled," she said. "I want to get back inside because my dogs are still inside."

The authorities wouldn't let her back in because of the dangers.

After the twister hit, Chicago media descended on Naplate, population 520. While the tornado also hit South Ottawa, Naplate got the most attention. Perhaps that's because it sustained more damage. But it's also because Ottawa officials locked down damaged neighborhoods, including keeping out reporters.

The tornado was the first major natural disaster I have covered. We're not perfect in America, but we're quick to help disaster-stricken towns get back on their feet.

  • David Giuliani is a reporter for The Times. He may be reached at 815-431-4041 or davidg@mywebtimes.com.
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