Forada, Minn. still struggling to rebuild, one year following tornado

One year after an EF-2 tornado tore through parts of west central Minnesota, leaving the town of Forada devastated, many are still trying to rebuild.

Mayor Bob Verkinderen estimates 75 percent of those impacted by the tornado have yet to return home. He says insurance delays and contractor availability has played a large role in the rebuilding delay.

"It’s different for every person and it’s a struggle for some people. It still is," said Verkinderen who also lost his house in the tornado.

RELATED: EF-2 tornado in Forada caused 'extensive' damage

According to Douglas County Emergency Management, 115 homes were damaged and 39 were destroyed countywide. The National Weather Service reported winds of up to 120 miles per hour and a tornado path of at least half a mile.

"It was fifteen seconds and everything you treasured was gone," said Mitch Critz.

Critz just started the process of rebuilding. He and his wife have been living in a rental unit for the last year, as they struggled to find an available contractor and wait for the cost of materials to come down.

He says everyone he knows who lost their home was considered underinsured.

"My advice – go through your policy every year. If you’re home were to be taken away from you tomorrow – could you replace it?" he said. "I don’t think anybody here had that much insurance."

Heidi Karn and her husband were among the first to finish rebuilding. Their home was halfway through a top-to-bottom remodel and major addition when the storm hit. She says the fact that they already had architectural plans and a contractor helped them move quickly, but it’s been hard seeing neighbors struggle.

"It's bittersweet," she said. "You’re still looking at the devastation and things look tough."

Neighbors all agree the one positive of the devastation is how it brought everyone together.

"You see your neighbors moving along and everyone working, and you know you just have to keep going," said Karn.

The city of Forada has received some federal disaster assistance. FEMA paid to replace both tornado sirens in town, as well as buy a new generator for the city command center. However, it was denied grants that would have helped rebuild the main road - left badly damaged from the heavy saturation and steady flow of utility trucks that followed. The city is now appealing that decision.

The loss of mature trees has also permanently changed the look of the town. The city will be distributing two to three trees per homeowner in an effort to replace the canopy, but officials recognize it will take decades for the aesthetic to return.