”It took my Mom 17 years to build up the park, and suddenly, we lost it all.”

May 16th is the two-year anniversary of the devastating tornado that tore through Prairie Lake Estates in Chetek, Wisconsin. 

The tornado had a path length of 83 miles, making it one of the longest track tornadoes ever to have occurred in Wisconsin (since records began in 1950).

The tornado was upgraded to an EF3 just to the east of Chetek in Rusk County. 231 homes and four commercial properties were damaged by the storm, creating an estimated 10 million dollars in damage (not including tree damage).

A number of changes have taken place at the community since then, but the recovery has been slow.  Darrin Seever, son of owner, Elvina Gagner, says after two years, they’re still cleaning up. “The park is pretty clean, but we’re still cleaning up the wooded area around it.  We want to transplant a bunch of pine trees, but that’s expensive.” 

“We had 48 homes in here before the tornado, and I think we have like 21 or 22 in here now.  Of 13 rentals, we’re now down to 4.  Twenty homes on the east section of the park were lost.”  But the park is slowly rebuilding.  “A brand new one (manufactured home) came in before the winter of 2017.  We refurbished three homes that were damaged in the tornado and they’re now set up as rentals.  Two others have come in that are privately owned.” 

In order to increase revenue, the section that was destroyed (19 lots) has been rezoned as a campground.  But Darrin says there are still plenty of empty lots open for manufactured homes, so they are looking into becoming a manufactured home dealer.

Another blow came when the park realized they didn’t have business loss insurance. “That would have made things a lot different if we had that.”  Darrin says it’s very important to make sure your tenants have homeowners or rental insurance. “We were left with all the clean up.”  Although, some people just pocketed the insurance money and split.

Darrin also realized that there were a lot of unforeseen repairs.  “The tornado actually made ground waves, so we had to dig up and replace a lot of sewer lines.”

As you can imagine, residents are on edge whenever they see storm clouds, but they will be more at ease once the FEMA shelter that’s been approved for their park is built.  For now, they’re waiting on the final paperwork from the county and hope to break ground sometime this year. “We’re hoping it will bring more people to the community.”

With severe weather season soon upon us, it’s a good time to review your   insurance and severe weather safety with your tenants.  Community owners should check their insurance policy to see if business income loss is covered.  If you have the Wisconsin Housing Alliance endorsed insurance through EMC and The Horton Group, this coverage is available at an additional cost.

Community owners and managers should have an evacuation plan in place, especially those in rural areas.  Anyone in a home without a basement should know where to go during severe weather, whether it be the home of nearby relatives or friends, the fire or police department, (if allowed) or a nearby establishment, etc.

The Wisconsin Housing Alliance has developed a severe weather safety guide, which you can distribute to your tenants.  You can download it here:  Severe Weather Safety for Manufactured Home Residents.

If you’d like to learn about FEMA Community Safe Rooms (storm shelters), we ran a story about one member’s experience in July of 2016, which you can find here.

Although individuals can not apply directly to the state for assistance, local governments may sponsor an application on your behalf.  Following a disaster declaration, which happened with the Chetek tornado, the state will advertise that Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funding is available to fund mitigation projects.  If you’re interested in applying to the HMGP, you should contact local government officials to begin the application process.  They will then contact the State Hazard Mitigation Officer, Katie Sommers with Wisconsin Emergency Management.

If you’ve ever considered buying a storm shelter, Timberlake Homes is a Storm Shield retailer.  They sell shelters that seat 4-45 adults, starting at $6400. (which includes installation within a 50-mile radius of Friendship, WI.  Estimates vary based on site conditions.) 

Patti Thompson of Timberlake Homes says they sell several storm shelters each year to manufactured home owners on private land.  To learn more, go to stormshieldtornadoshelter.com or contact Patti or Sarah at (608) 339-4663 or patti.timberlakehomes@frontier.com.

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