News and Tribune

March 4, 2013

SMALL TOWN, BIG ISSUES: A year after the big storm, Marysville struggles to recover

By AMANDA BEAM
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

MARYSVILLE — For such a small place, Marysville has a big reputation. In the days after March 2, 2012, news media across the globe reported that the rural town was “completely gone” following a series of tornadoes that tore through its center. 

Although numerous homes were destroyed and many lives were uprooted, not even the 170 mph winds from the deadly EF-4 tornado could extinguish the Marysville community. And while debris remains on some of the fields and crumbling houses still sit vacant, the unincorporated town continues to push forward in its recovery effort as residents learn to adapt to a new kind of normal.

On an early February morning, builder Daniel Gerard and his workers braved the cold and snow to build the frame of the Marysville Christian Church. Originally constructed in 1891, the house of worship was wrecked by the March 2 tornadoes. A ribbon-cutting ceremony in November kicked off the reconstruction.

“We’re hoping to have them in by the first part of May. We were hoping to be a lot further along than this, but we were held up in November on account of the concrete,” Gerard said. 

Other homes remain damaged and empty along the country roads. Carolyn King, executive director for the organization March2Recovery, said Marysville faced a different situation than other local towns. The nonprofit offers assistance to only those who have been turned down by all other aid programs. Likewise, those affected by the disaster must own their own homes to qualify. 

“The problem with Marysville is that many of those are rental properties. We only help homeowners,” King said. “And people that owned them either didn’t have enough insurance or are not rebuilding. So they’re not people we can help. That’s a part of the tragedy in Marysville.” 

 

CONSTRUCTION DELAYS

About a quarter of a mile away from where hammers pound together a new church, not much has changed for Marysville resident Lisa Clapp since the tornadoes, at least not as far as rebuilding is concerned. 

According to Clapp, only about five of the 18 homes destroyed by the tornadoes have been rebuilt. Several residents have decided to sell their land and move to another town instead of going through the hassle of reconstruction. 

She and her husband Michael occupy a used mobile home they purchased as they wait for construction to begin on a permanent home. But she said government red tape and other unforeseeable events have made the process difficult. 

“It was money we hadn’t anticipated on having to spend. It was either buy this or we’d have to rent someplace because of the Hoosier Upland Grant, which we finally found out we qualified for in November. Until then, you couldn’t do any kind of construction whatsoever or you forfeited the grant.”

Immediately following the natural disaster, their insurance company provided them funds to lease a camper until their house was restored. Unexpectedly in December, an insurance representative informed the Clapps that they would no longer be paying for the rental, even though Clapp said the policy contained enough money to fund their stay for a full year. 

“It didn’t run out. They said we should have had a house built by now, so they just quit paying on it even though we still had money left,” Clapp said. “We were at a point where we either had to go rent somewhere or do what we did and bought this mobile home as a temporary fix until we figure out what we’re going to do.”

Qualifying for a $45,000 Hoosier Upland Grant hasn’t seemed to make these decisions any easier. Clapp said they’ve had a difficult time finding a contractor that meets all the government’s rules, like having certain bonds, for the endowment. In one instance, the price of constructing their home increased $30,000 after the builder figured in the amount of additional money he’d need to spend to meet the state’s criteria. 

“They think there are contractors on every corner down here and they’re not,” Clapp said. “It’s costing us more by actually having the grant than without it because they have to get all these bonds and stuff like that.”  

Likewise, if they accept the grant, the state would have a 15-year lien on their new home, although the government funding would only cover a portion of their total cost. 

Insurance did pay off their old mortgage. With the little remaining, she hoped to make a decent down payment for a new loan. However, she said the insurance company will not release the remaining funds until construction begins. 

 

EMOTIONAL TOLL

While the damage to their land is apparent, other emotional injuries have been harder to perceive. Five-year-old Aiden Stewart sought shelter with her grandparents in the tool room of the metal work building. Even today, she and Clapp both remain frightened of storms. 

“[Aiden] still shows signs when a storm’s impending,” her father Brian Stewart said. “She was real nervous and I think that leads to some of her medical issues actually. I really do, because she builds up so much in her.”

Although unsure if they will attend any remembrance events today, March 2, the family will have at least three happy occasions around the anniversary of the disaster. Aiden turned 6 on March 1, while Clapp and her husband celebrate their birthdays March 5 and March 3. Yet, she’s fairly confident turning a year older this time around will be much easier than the last despite all the unknowns of rebuilding. 

“You don’t look in the mirror too close because you know there is more gray hair than a year ago,” Clapp said. “We’re just waiting to see what’s going to happen. That’s all we can do.”