Pendleton continues recovery following devastation by EF-2 tornado
Herald Bulletin (Anderson, IN)
Aug. 24--PENDLETON -- Nearly three months after what was identified by the National Weather Service as an EF-2 tornado swept through Pendleton, the town appears to have returned to normal as people enjoy a drink on a sidewalk patio at a local restaurant or pull a lawnmower out of a garage to cut the grass.
"The people are happy with their life getting back in order," Bill Hutton told the town council earlier this month.
But for some people, vestiges of some of the damage wrought by the tornado that devastated Falls Park, damaged 75 homes, leaving many temporarily homeless, and burst gas mains on the east and west sides, linger.
That's why Hutton got together with other residents in June to establish the Long Term Recovery Group.
"The goal of the Long Term Recovery Group is to work our way out of business," he said. "We want everybody taken care of, to the best of our ability."
Right after the tornado hit, the town received assistance from state and federal agencies as well as volunteers, Hutton said.
"They're gone. We're down to us," he said. "We don't have a budget. We just have volunteers."
However, the Long Term Recovery Group continues to work with organizations, such as United Way of Madison County and the local community foundation, to fulfill the needs.
The group has met more than a dozen times, in many instances to evaluate the nearly 160 intake forms received from residents seeking help, Hutton said. About 54 percent have been closed out, with many referred for low-interest small business loans, but that leaves about half who still require assistance.
"We still have a lot of tentacles out. We just don't know who to pull in yet," he said.
The one take-away from the tornado, Hutton said, is that many property owners were underinsured, and many struggled just to come up with the deductible they needed to make repairs.
"If your budget is tight to begin with, this is a burden to the family," he said. "A lot of our people struggle financially."
Some people still are finding out they had property damage without realizing it, Hutton said.
"I suspect there are a lot of people out there who would help. They just don't know there's still a need," said Pendleton Town Council Member Jessica Bastin.
Rachel Christenson, assistant planning director for the Town of Pendleton, said the tornado has affected several plans, including the façade project.
"It delayed the Town Hall being finished by a couple of weeks or so," she said. "There has been a little delay on our planning projects and our public works projects for sure. On the planning side, we do rely on our public works employees, but they obviously have their hands full right now, so we have to be patient."
There are still some sidewalks around town that require TLC after they were uprooted by trees falling over, Christenson said.
"The root balls are so huge on some of these trees, it takes extra equipment to get them out. That certainly takes some time from our regular day-to-day operations on things," she said.
On the bright side, Christenson said, the town was preparing to install decorative lighting but hadn't yet gotten to that when the tornado hit.
"It was a blessing we didn't have them installed because the tornado would have knocked those down," she said.
Council President Jessica Smith could not be reached for comment, but council member Robert C. Jones said he's proud of the way the town is recovering, removing trees and limbs that blocked the roads and bringing power lines back into service in record time.
"The important thing about that whole event is nobody got hurt, nobody got killed," he said.
In the wake of the damage, Jones said, the town has found an opportunity by being able to modernize parts of the electrical grid. The town also was in a good financial position with a $900,000 reserve to be able to pay for repairs upfront as it waits for insurance payouts, Jones said.
"The utility is healthy enough we can pay those bills now," he said. "We'll pay it back when the insurance comes through."
Jones said though there hasn't been much damage to city-owned property, he's not sure the long-term effects of the tornado on public and private properties all have become visible in the short amount of time since it touched down.
The number of older trees lost, however, is a serious issue for the community, Jones said. The town has a tree committee charged with deciding how and when to replace the walnuts, sycamores, maples, oaks and evergreens.
"The town has planted a lot of trees over the past few years," he said, "and we anticipate the town will get a little more aggressive with that."
Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.
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