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'Not the same' in Naplate

The laundromat at 19th Avenue and Center Street, which was damaged in last year's tornado, is being demolished this week. Other lots on 19th Avenue are also vacant.
The laundromat at 19th Avenue and Center Street, which was damaged in last year's tornado, is being demolished this week. Other lots on 19th Avenue are also vacant.

Before dusk Monday, about 10 teenage boys played basketball in Naplate's main park. Two girls were on the swing set. A man pushed an infant on the baby swings.

A block away, two boys played catch in the middle of Center Street.

It was unseasonably warm for late February — somewhat like a year ago today when a tornado struck Naplate.

Thankfully, on Monday, no storm clouds brewed.

Mark and Kim Grammer remember the early evening of Feb. 28, 2017, when the tornado touched down. They were returning home from South Ottawa. It was getting windy. Garbage cans hit their car as they traveled to their Naplate home.

"We drove into the mess," Mark said.

They live in the 200 block of 19th Avenue, one of the Naplate streets where the storm hit hardest.

Their house remained standing, but the roof, windows, siding and garage were damaged. For a few days, they powered their home with a generator. They stayed, because they feared looting.

The experience scarred Kim.

"I get scared when I hear a storm," she said. "One day last week, it got dark and windy. I got freaked out. I never used to be scared of thunderstorms."

The couple got their house remodeled by May. From the outside, the house looks new.

A few lots down from the Grammers is the laundromat at 19th Avenue and Center Street. On Monday, the two-story red brick building was being demolished.

On the next block of 19th Avenue — as it dead-ends next to the Pilkington glass factory — a number of houses were condemned after the tornado. While a few were replaced, other lots remain empty.

Sharon Christy's renovated house is at the end of 19th — next to vacant lots. During the renovation, she stayed at her daughter's place in Ottawa.

She said she was happy with the way her insurance company handled the situation. Her house, once white, is now gray. As it turns out, three new houses on her street also now are gray, which she said was a coincidence.

"I don't know how that happened," Christy said. 

She is not sure if the vacant lots next to her property will be developed anytime soon.

Mark Grammer, who grew up in Naplate, said there's no denying the town has changed since the twister.

"I take a walk every day," Mark said as he sipped a beer in his living room. "I look at the properties. It's not the same. I may not know who lives in these houses. Next door you may have a neighbor who is not there anymore or a friend who is not there anymore."

Helen and Ben Wiegmann are among the new residents in Naplate. They are moving into one of the row of small yellow houses on the town's main street, Ottawa Avenue. These replaced similar homes destroyed in the tornado.

On Monday evening, a cable company serviceman was connecting the couple's equipment.

The Wiegmanns lived in a house in rural Ottawa, but sold it because they wanted to downsize. They plan to rent the Naplate house for a couple months while looking for permanent digs in the area.

"I went by Naplate after the tornado last year. It looked really bad," she said.

Now, it looks much better. But some pockets still remain in Naplate.

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