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Many hurdles remain for those in tornado zone

November 21, 2019 at 5:17 a.m. | Updated February 18, 2020 at 6:52 p.m.
Kody Clark, on ladder at left, and Greg Buschjost of California Siding and Gutter prepare to hang the new gutter from the roofline at Tyler Woods Funeral Home at 611 E. Capitol Ave. The building sustained heavy damage in the May 22 tornado.

Life for James and Mikyong Miller the afternoon of Nov. 15 inside their Jackson Street home was a mix of the glowing warmth of space heaters, cold drafts of air, and the pounding sounds of a new roof being put on their home after the May 22 tornado ripped off much of their previous roof and laid it on top of James' car in the driveway.

James and Mikyong were making their way down into their basement that late stormy night just as the kitchen behind them "exploded," James said.

The back door had been violently pulled out by the wind, shattering glass and the wood framing. Mikyong had glass in her hair, and James later found pieces of glass in the pockets of the pants he had been wearing.

After the tornado passed, James went upstairs to the second floor.

"Don't worry about upstairs, because we don't have one," he remembered saying. His flashlight shined up into night sky where there used to be a roof.

Six months after the May 22 tornado ripped through Jefferson City, residents and business owners have made significant strides in the recovery process - but many hurdles remain.


Christy Drive, Ellis Boulevard

When the tornado entered Jefferson City limits on May 22, it bee-lined up Christy Drive, severely damaging or even destroying businesses along the way, including Riley Toyota and Riley Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac.

As of Nov. 11, Riley Toyota was back at full service in the dealership at 2105 Christy Drive.

"It's been an educational experience that I wish we didn't have to go through, but it was a major step for us to get Toyota back," owner Kevin Riley said.

Riley said they plan for a new Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac dealership to replace the one destroyed in the tornado. They have been operating that dealership on Missouri Boulevard since August.

"It's in General Motors' hands now," Riley said. " They have to give final approval for the interior and exterior of the store. They'll say how big of a showroom we have to have and how many cars we can have on the lot. It gets trying at times, and we want to be in as soon as possible."

Riley previously estimated more than 770 new and used vehicles were totaled during the tornado between the two dealerships, with about 50 left in good enough condition for resale.

Down the road, Special Olympics Missouri President/CEO Susan Stegeman said she is happy they were able to complete repair work on the roof of the Training for Life Campus' gym.

"That was the goal, to get it done before winter," she said.

Stegeman hopes to have all repairs completed by May 2020, including replacing windows, drywall and carpeting, as well as repairing the track and landscaping.

While it is a long process, she said, they don't want to rush things.

"There are only so many building trades workers and supplies, and they are working so many jobs right now," she said.

SOMO has been in temporary offices at 711 W. McCarty St. since the tornado. Day programs normally held at the campus have been taking place at The Linc and the Southwest Early Childhood Center.

At Hawthorne Park Apartments, at 505 Ellis Blvd., property manager Chris Finley said contractors are still going through the complex "piece by piece" to see what needs to be addressed.

"We've been going unit by unit to check on structures," Finley said. "We haven't torn any down yet. I'm sure we'll have to tear some down; we just don't know how many."

Jefferson City has issued demolition permits for eight of Hawthorne Park's apartment buildings.

Haley Residential, based in Nebraska, owns Hawthorne Park Apartments. Some of the work is "at a standstill at what we'll be doing until corporate gets the final word from the contractors," Finley added.

There were 144 units damaged within 18 buildings in the complex.

Near Hawthorne Park Apartments, Community Christian Church is slowly rebuilding. The church set up temporary offices on Woodclift Drive and has been holding services in the Hawthorn Community Room on Truman Boulevard.

A group from the congregation is working as the church's design team, looking at the interior of other churches and commercial buildings to help visualize what they want their church to look like, board president Glen Gessley said.

The church now has a solid roof back in place after rain fell inside the church for several months after the tornado, Gessley said. The church also had to remove asbestos from the building for $120,000 and is currently working to replace the windows, he added.

While it's a long, slow process, Gessley added, they have learned they have "wonderful neighbors."

For example, the wall where urns are interred was damaged by the tornado. While the church was being repaired, the urns were removed, and Freeman Mortuary helped keep the remains, Gessley said.

Other volunteers helped clean up the damaged church in the hours and days after the tornado.

"We found out that the church is the people," Gessley said. "We may be able to get back in by late summer, but we're carrying on. Other churches have helped in a lot of ways, and we're very appreciative of the community's support."

While some businesses in the area are still rebuilding, about a mile north of Community Christian Church, many homes in the Mesa Avenue and Holiday Drive area have been repaired.

This includes the Mesa Avenue home of Susie Stonner, who had roof damage, a shed destroyed and windows blown out.

"Fortunately, our insurance agent was able to get us funds we needed to get repairs made," Stonner said. "We had it fixed in probably two weeks, so we were very lucky."

It's hard to tell that a tornado moved through the neighborhood six months ago as the outside damage has been repaired at the majority of homes in the area. However, two of Stonner's neighbors on Holiday Drive are still working on repairs, and another tornado-damaged home will have to be torn down, Stonner said.

"It took a long time to clean up our yards, but the street crews were fantastic in coming by and picking up stuff," Stonner said. "Church groups also were great to come by and cut up trees and haul off debris."

One thing will take time to bring back, and that's the trees that were destroyed in the area.

"When the Missouri Department of Conservation gave out their free trees, we got some oak trees and got those planted, but for now it's pretty barren," Stonner said. "As my husband said, he didn't have to mow the leaves this year."


Jackson, Dunklin streets

After the tornado crossed Ellis Boulevard, it continued to create chaos through Jefferson City, directly hitting homes in the Jackson Street area.

Since May, there has been noticeable progress at James and Mikyong Millers' home in the 700 block of Jackson Street. A roofing crew was laying shingles Nov. 15, and sawdust occasionally rained down as James showed the second floor, which will have one bedroom instead of its former two.

It was still bare wood framing up there last week, and the second floor still needs to be insulated and re-wired and have drywall put up.

"At least the next time it rains, it won't be pouring into the house," James said.

There were several places downstairs where water had stained the ceiling and caused pieces to buckle or fall, meaning the ceilings must be ripped out and replaced.

Every step of the process has to be approved by city inspectors, he said.

James, a retired truck driver of 20 years, didn't think they would have enough money to complete the repairs they already have done, and he didn't know if they would have enough to finish what needs to be done. They got about $27,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he added.

The storm damage repair projects for their home are estimated to cost $50,000, Jefferson City building permit records show - almost as much as the home's listed appraised value in 2018, though the appraisal and taxes were cut by more than half this year, according to county tax records.

The Millers didn't have electricity for two months after the tornado, and they still don't have gas service restored yet. Once the electricity came back, they got an electric stove and a refrigerator - complete now with their grandchildren's pictures on it - from their church congregation.

"At least we're getting there," compared to other homes on the block, James said.

One block over, the Lincoln University President's House is also being repaired. LU President Jerald Jones Woolfolk was home at the time of the tornado but made it through the storm in the limestone-walled house's basement.

The force of the tornado's winds blew out the home's windows and doors, carried contents of the home out through those openings, embedded shards of glass into the walls and substantially damaged the slate roof.

The cost estimate to complete repairs on the LU President's House, at 601 Jackson St., is $3.5 million, said Jeff Turner, director of LU's Office of Facilities and Planning.

The walls inside have been stripped down to their wood framing studs or bare plaster because of the glass that was embedded in the walls, Turner said. The top 3 inches of all soil on the property will have to be scraped off and replaced because of glass and metal embedded in it.

Turner said insurance will cover all $3.5 million in repair costs, including to replace personal and LU-owned furnishings inside, as well as costs to address pre-existing code issues with the home's electrical and plumbing systems.

"We are definitely putting this house back as close as possible," Turner said.

What insurance is not covering is a $25,000 deductible and the not-yet-estimated cost to upgrade the home's garage from a one-car to two-car, Turner said.

Installation of the home's new slate roof is supposed to start this month, Turner said. He anticipated interior work will begin after Jan. 1.

Turner estimated it will take 10 months to complete all repairs, once the roof work starts - so that means a planned completion sometime in August 2020.

While the President's House is being repaired, Woolfolk continues to live in a rental property.

"I miss being closer to the campus," she said last week - and she misses the President's House itself.

In the tornado, she lost some photos and other special pieces - her personal furniture ended up thrown by the winds onto U.S. 50 - but she's pleased she did not lose a prized piano her mother bought as a gift from her father's estate when he died.

Up the street, the state's Employment Security Building, at 421 E. Dunklin St., sustained about $2.2 million in tornado damage, according to Brittany Ruess, then Missouri Office of Administration director of communications. They are "in the process of compiling the total amount insurance has reimbursed," Ruess said

The building's roof is being repaired and may be completed by the end of the year or in early 2020. OA has not begun interior repairs, she added.


Capitol, High and McCarty streets

After hopping U.S. 50, the strong winds wreaked havoc along East McCarty, East High and Lafayette streets, as well as East Capitol Avenue.

In the hours after the late-night tornado, people flooded the area to help remove debris and clear out dilapidated homes and businesses as the sound of chainsaws and hammers filled the air. Six months later, the echo of pounding hammers still lingers in the cold air as property owners continue to repair businesses and homes.

Repairing 616 E. Capitol Ave. will soon be Adam Trowbridge's normalcy, as he is set to close on the tornado-damaged property next week. He has plenty of work ahead of him, too, as his real estate agent, Leslie Davis, noticed more and more damage throughout the home Monday.

Several walls were cracked, and broken glass and kitchen tiles were splayed throughout the structure. A tarp covered a gaping hole in the second story, where a bedroom wall once stood. Ceiling tiles had fallen to the floors, and Davis pointed out sections of the ceiling that were bowing and turning brown due to water damage.

While Trowbridge has experience renovating houses, he said, this is "one of the biggest challenges I've ever done."

After purchasing the property from current owner Tom LePage, Trowbridge plans to replace one of the walls, screw another bowing wall into the house and restructure it, reinforce the back porch, and reconstruct the kitchen, among other repairs. He hopes to save 90 percent of the floors and keep as many original aspects of the house as possible.

"We'll piece it back together again," Trowbridge said. He hopes to complete the renovations within four months then resell the property.

Unfortunately, some buildings were damaged beyond recovery.

Earlier this month, a contractor demolished the structure at 511 E. McCarty St., the old home of Joy & Gladness Children's Academy, a 24-hour child care service.

LaKaisha McCaleb, owner of Joy & Gladness Children's Academy, had planned to purchase the building from owners Connie and Brett McGowan before the tornado.

Now, the business is operating as an in-home child care center until she can find a new building, McCaleb said.

She plans to purchase land and build a structure for the center. She originally wanted to purchase an existing building, but McCaleb said she has struggled to find a building that has enough parking spaces and space for a playground.

"A lot of people see this as a disaster, but I see it as a desire," McCaleb said. "Of course I was hurt when the tornado hit and went through a downhill spiral, but throughout the whole situation I've been able to get some of those desires. When rebuilding, I get to build a building with the desires that I want in it."

McCaleb said she is unsure when she will reopen Joy & Gladness in its own facility.

In September, crews demolished two buildings at the corner of East Capitol Avenue and Lafayette Street, leaving a large hole that now pierces the heart of the Capitol Avenue Historic District.

After the tornado ripped apart its second story and portions of its roof, 623 E. Capitol Ave. - housing the Avenue HQ offices - became the first tornado-damaged building on East Capitol Avenue to be demolished. The structure at 621 E. Capitol Ave., which contained the Avenue HQ venue, was also demolished.

An unexpected hurdle owner Holly Stitt recently hit was discovering her commercial buildings will not be reassessed for real estate taxes until 2020, which means she will have to pay the full amount for 2019 even though her buildings were destroyed. If the buildings were residential, she added, they could have been reassessed this year.

"Probably no one else realizes that until now since the bills are coming up," Stitt said. "You would think they would give you a break. Here you have businesses that have taken detrimental hits to their income, and you're not giving them a break."

Insurance has also been a hurdle for Stitt, who just had her insurance company sign off last week on tearing down 619 E. Capitol Ave. She added she is in the process of scheduling a demolition date.

"I couldn't do anything until the insurance company signs off," she said.

With several buildings boarded up or still missing walls, Stitt believes other property owners are also experiencing slow processes with insurance companies.

That's the case for Tennyson's Furniture at 520 E. High St.

The outside of Tennyson's Furniture looks almost identical to what it looked like in the days after the tornado. Owner Dan Miller said he is still in a "holding pattern" as he works with the insurance company.

"It's still a wait-and-see process," he said. "It's taken substantially longer than I thought it would, but we don't have any date in mind to even proceed with rebuild if and when we get to that point."

Until that happens, Tennyson's Furniture will remain closed and Miller will continue to work from a temporary office.

As of last week, Miller planned to rebuild Tennyson's Furniture, but he said that may change depending on the insurance company.

"What it will take to rebuild, I mean, it's substantial, and you can't afford to if the insurance company is not more realistic," he said. "I think we'll get there, but it's just a process. I'm hoping the city is understanding that this is a long process and this could take a while."

Dave Helmick, housing and property inspector for Jefferson City, said last week city staff understands the recovery process will take time and that as long as property owners are making "continual progress without any unnecessary delays, the city definitely can work with them on those time frames."

As for Communique, insurance isn't the holdup - it's the demolition of a neighboring building.

Six months after the tornado, blue and black tarps still cover crumbling sidewalls of a few buildings, including Communique at 512 E. Capitol Ave. Communique CEO Adam Veile said he is waiting for contractors to demolish 514 and 516 E. Capitol Ave. - the old home of the Missouri Association of Counties - before he can move forward with repairing Communique's building.

"Our building is not safe to work on until their building is demolished," Veile said. "Progress has been slower than we wanted, but we're still optimistic that it'll turn out, and we're looking forward to the day we can move back in."

Communique has been operating out of a neighboring building since the tornado. Veile said they removed some asbestos from 512 E. Capitol Ave. and did a lead paint inspection, as well as removed debris, carpet and wallpaper.

"I don't think it ever occurred to us if there's a way to save (the building) that we would want to tear it down. It's not just a building to us," he said.

Up the street, Tyler Woods said his business, Tyler M. Woods Funeral Director, was lucky it didn't sustain more tornado damage.

Over the last six months, contractors have repaired the roof and replaced ceiling tiles, light fixtures and windows. Two focal points - a stained glass window in the back and a lead glass window in the front - were replaced after a company recreated them using old photographs.

"We were really inspired to get those installed again because, to me, that was a big turning point of our progress," Woods said. "Yeah, we had the roof on and we were getting these other windows in, but when we got those two pieces of history replaced, that was a real important time."

The business is now waiting on some new flooring in the downstairs area and to do minor repairs, he said. Contractors are also currently working on the vacant upstairs apartments.

Woods is unsure when contractors will finish all of the repairs.

The old Missouri State Penitentiary also was not spared from the massive destruction in the East Capitol Avenue area. The tornado caused extensive roof and structural damage to several buildings and the wall of the prison, which boasts a 185-year history and was once named the "bloodiest 47 acres in America."

Some repairs and cleanup have begun for Housing Unit 4, built in 1868, with a construction crew removing the building's roof damage, said Brittney Mormann of the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Next steps include assessing the roof damage and the cost to repair it. The Missouri Office of Administration estimated in July that repair costs on Housing Unit 4 may be $2 million.

Repairs to the roof of Housing Unit 3, built in 1914, also are underway, she said. The OA estimated repair costs at over $1.2 million.

Bids to repair the roof of Housing Unit 1, built in 1905, have been received, and the CVB is in the process of issuing that contract, Mormann said. Estimated repair costs for Housing Unit 1 were $96,000, according to OA's July estimates.

Estimated costs to repair Housing Unit 2, built 1938, were over $3 million.

"The biggest obstacle was figuring out what damage had been done to the property after the tornado and what the best method was to begin repair work," Mormann said.

Following the damage, the CVB stopped tours of the prison. On Oct. 1, the historic grounds were reopened for modified tours. During the tour closure period, the CVB lost an estimated $364,860 in revenue, Mormann said.

As for the future, CVB is working to uncover a block of buried cells, which they hope to add to the three-hour history tours.

On Wednesday, further damage was done to Housing Unit 2 when a structure fire began on one corner of the roof around 4:20 p.m. Crews were able to extinguish the fire within an hour.

The cause of the fire and extent of the damage had not been determined as of Wednesday evening. Jefferson City Fire Chief Matt Schofield said previous damage inside the building from the tornado increased the difficulty for crews as they searched the large building to ensure the fire was out.

News Tribune reporters Nicole Roberts, Emily Cole, Jeff Haldiman and Phillip Sitter contributed to this article.

This is part of a five-part series exploring what was lost, what progress has been made and what challenges remain six months after the May 22 tornado in Jefferson City.

WEDNESDAY: The tornado took minutes to rip apart Capital City history and to leave deep scars.
TODAY: Significant strides have been made by some businesses, residents and organizations; many hurdles still remain.
FRIDAY: On the six-month anniversary of the tornado, a new sense of normal is emerging.
SATURDAY: Much of the immediate focus after the tornado was within Jefferson City limits. But people outside the city still face their own challenges.
SUNDAY: A housing shortage existed before the tornado. Now, the shortage has become a crisis. What work is being done to address the need?

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