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Almost six months after Taopi tornado, recovery has progressed 'so quickly and so well'

While some residents are still displaced from their homes due to severe storm damage, Mayor Mary Huntley said Taopi is on its way to looking like "a brand new city."

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The Smith family has moved back into their home in Taopi, Minn., with just some work remaining on the garage as of September 2022. The Smiths' house was one of many homes badly damaged by an EF2 tornado on April 12, 2022.
Contributed / Mary Huntley
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TAOPI — In the months after an EF2 tornado struck the town of Taopi on April 12, 2022 , families have been busy repairing and rebuilding their homes.

As the six-month mark since the storm closes in, Taopi Mayor Mary Huntley said the town of about 60 people is well on its way toward looking vibrant and beautiful.

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"When we're done with all this new housing, it's gonna look like a brand new city here," Huntley said. "We're all very excited about that and grateful to everyone who made that possible."

After the tornado hit, volunteers from other communities stepped in right away to help residents clean up the damage. For homes that sustained moderate damage, like Huntley's, contractors prioritized those projects to keep people from being displaced.

"(There were) probably five houses like mine where we had some pretty severe roof damage," Huntley said. "By the first two months, we had all gotten repaired. ... They were already re-roofing some of our homes here (in) that first couple weeks. So our homes, those of us on the east side of town, are all good."

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For those who have had to completely rebuild their homes, Huntley said at least one family is now living in a brand new house.

"They have yet to shingle their garage, but it looks like that's about all they have to do," Huntley said. "And I know they've even had a little celebration party at their house already."

About 10 people are still waiting to move back into their homes.

Taopi Storm Damage
The wall of a home is missing on April 13, 2022, after a tornado the night before in Taopi, Minnesota. The National Weather Service confirmed an EF2 tornado touched down in Taopi.
Post Bulletin file photo

"We had 10 homes that were more or less total losses," Huntley said. "But out of that, six of them, by the year mark, will probably be back in their homes."

Despite the extensive damage throughout Taopi, only three homes won't be rebuilt; four people have chosen to sell their lots and move out of Taopi, Huntley said. One of the people who opted not to rebuild is Huntley's 94-year-old mother, who moved in with her.

"She lost her home completely that night," Huntley said. "It wouldn't make sense for her to have a new home, so her property is all cleaned up and probably will be sold."

County and state aid are also at play in Taopi's recovery process. During its Sept. 13 meeting, the Mower County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a local option abatement and a local option credit for homeowners whose properties sustained 50% or greater in damages.

"That would be a proration of their tax from essentially the first of the next month after the storm," said Mower County Assessor Candy Lahann. "They would get some reimbursement of tax for 2022."

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Similarly, the credit plan would reimburse those homeowners' property taxes in 2023. Lahann said 19 properties qualify for the abatement and credit.

Additionally, Mower County is seeking additional aid from the state to help Taopi residents whose damages don't qualify for the aforementioned property tax breaks.

"I'm putting a packet together to see about getting additional aid from the state from the Executive Council," Lahann said. "Additional aid just means if there's somebody that had less than 50% damage, they might then qualify for some aid."

As the residents of one small Minnesota town pick up the pieces of homes and lives shattered by Monday’s storms, residents of another town who are walking that path have a hopeful message.

Huntley said any assistance that helps Taopi residents get back into their homes is welcome.

"It all helps because their hearts are all here in Taopi; they want to rebuild here," she said. "So those financial incentives just make that an easier task for them."

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A new basement and foundation for Angie Schmitz's home in Taopi, Minn. on Sept. 23, 2022.
Contributed / Mary Huntley

Looking to the future, Huntley said she wants to build a new community gathering space — there aren't any township facilities remaining. Right now, the Taopi City Council holds its meetings in Huntley's dining room.

"What we started to discuss is building our own new, not just a city hall that we can have a meeting and that we can vote in, but a city hall that can include a community gathering space," she said. "We're going to see if we can come up with financing and fund a new recreation building that will serve as our city hall."

When the one-year anniversary of the tornado comes around next April, Huntley said she hopes Taopi will be celebrating the return of its community.

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"I think that we are as surprised as anyone that the recovery has gone so quickly and so well," Huntley said. "I think a year from now, it is just going to be a time to sit back and say, 'Look what happened. Look what we did. We went through it, we went through a terrible devastation, but we came out on top.'"

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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