Picking up the Pieces: Dexter Families Still Displaced 6 Months After Tornado
While their homes are being rebuilt, residents in Dexter and Dexter Township are still living out of suitcases and hotels six months later.
Six months after a powerful EF3 tornado ripped through Dexter, life for local residents is far from normal.
"We still get a lot of gawkers," Blair Taylor, a resident of the Carriage Hills subdivision in Dexter Township said. "(Coming back to the neighborhood) after being away for so long leaves you with a sense of disconnection. Six months ago I was really involved, but now we're just trying to create a life again. It's like falling down the rabbit hole into a whole new world."
The township, along with the Huron Farms subdivision in the Village of Dexter, were two of the most heavily affected areas in the storm's path.
Taylor hasn't spoken much about the tornado since it hit, and said she still remembers watching the sky over her house turn black as the storm's funnel formed near the neighborhood.
"I could see these massive doors and debris being tossed around in the sky like a deck of cards," she recalls of the 130 mile per hour winds.
Transformers near the family's house were damaged and trees were ripped from the ground, but Blair said she never felt scared.
"I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, watching everything float by; I couldn't move," she said.
Eventually the winds ripped a hole in the family's house, causing rain to pour in through the ceiling.
"It was like watching an amazing waterfall all centralized in our house," she said.
Due to significant water damage, Taylor, her husband John, and their two daughters, were forced to relocate to a hotel until repairs could be made on the home.
"It's been tough. This is our fourth hotel we've moved to in six months," she said Monday. "Hopefully we'll be coming home this week."
The constant moving has been particularly hard on the family's pets, two of which — a dog and a rabbit — have since died.
"A lot of it had to do with the stress of the storm I think," Taylor said.
Down the street, Sherri Palmieri and her husband were one of the lucky few who only had minor damage from the storm, including the loss of a fence. Still the couple has spent the last several months working to clear debris and fallen trees from their yard.
"We lost many trees and occurred damage to our split rail fencing. Our biggest issue is the fence repair," Palmieri said.
Replacing the fence will cost roughly $1,500, half of that will be covered by the couple's insurance.
"We are looking to do the work ourselves. Eventually we would also like to replace some of the trees that we lost, but we are so grateful that our home wasn't damaged. Trees and fencing are minor issues in the bigger picture," she said.
Immediately following the storm, the couple received help from St. Joseph Catholic Church, the People's Church in Pinckney, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Group, and complete strangers and neighbors that walked up with rakes and shovels and asked, "What can we do?"
"It was overwhelming to receive such selfless acts of charity," Palmieri said.
Palmieri planned to reach out to the Dexter Relief Fund for help to pay for the fence, however the fund has since stopped sending money to individual residents.
"We didn't ask for any help because we would have hated to take money away from someone that might have needed it for their house or for food for their table. A fence is the least of the necessities, but now it's just hanging there and winter is coming," she said.
Nancy Paul, director of Faith in Action, said the relief fund has less than $50,000 available, which has been set aside to pay for replanting efforts and large stump grinding, tree procurement, planting, and re-sodding.
To date the fund has disbursed $265,000 to more than 300 individual households, provided two weeks of free summer day camps for Dexter youth, and services for large tree stump removal.
"These funds have been critical in helping many families remain solvent during their rebuilding efforts," Paul said. "In the fall we will be looking at a way to help homeowners remove a lot of the glass that is still in their yards."
'Everything is upside down'
On Monday, the sounds of hammers and saws could still be heard biting through the cool crisp autumn air in Carriage Hills, serving as a constant reminder to homeowners of the damage that occurred in their neighborhood.
"We are doing the best we can," Taylor said. "This whole experience has been an amazing life changing event, but in a good way."
Taylor's daughter Olivia said since the tornado hit, the family has tried to lead a more positive life.
"It was hard to see anything positive come from the tornado at first, but we laugh together and have fun. We're really tight. I think this whole experience has brought us closer together," she said.
Though the family has lost more than 200 trees, a car, and most of their personal belongings, Blair said the family has moved gradually beyond the shock of the tornado to acceptance.
"No one was injured. Things are things and they can be replaced," she said.
"And besides, at least now we can see the Fourth of July fireworks from our house," Olivia joked.