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Digging Deeper: Eight months later, neighbors struggle to rebuild after Wheaton tornado

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Wheaton Tornado Recovery 05-24-2020

Village of Elk Mound (WQOW) - It's been eight months since the Wheaton tornado wreaked havoc across parts of the Chippewa Valley, leaving millions of dollars in damage and displacing residents.

That is still the reality for two Elk Mound neighbors.

"I don't even feel like that it is anywhere near back together," said Donna Adank, an Elk Mound resident who was displaced after the Wheaton tornado damaged her home.

On September 24 of 2019, an EF3 tornado blew out the windows and doors of Adank's home.

"A lot of sadness and depression comes along when you drive by and see it all the time," said Adank.

Adank and her husband started cleaning up and demolishing parts of their house, but she says discrepancies with their insurance company have prevented them from moving further.

"You think in a disaster like this that they would step up and take care of putting your house back and that the dollars would be there to do it, but they're really not," said Adank.

The process has forced the couple to temporarily stay at a home in Menomonie, and Adank says the back and forth with insurance is exhausting.

"You don't even really sleep well at night because these thoughts are all running through your head of different things you need to do," she said. "Different people you need to call."

Across the street, the home of Adank's neighbor Luke Heier fared even worse.

"It was devastating," said Heier. "I had one pretty large outbuilding, a shed that completely disappeared. You can see the garage, attached garage on the house has collapsed. It tore a lot of the roof off of the house and damaged pretty much everything upstairs."

The damage has displaced Heier from his home. He's been renting at a place in Atoona, but says it's definitely not the same.

"It's a beautiful home but it's in the middle of town. Really no privacy. All the neighbors are really close. Not something I'm used to. It's an adjustment," said Heier.

Heier says the main reason he hasn't started rebuilding yet is because contractors say they need $240,00 to fix his home, but his insurance is only willing to pay 3/4 of that.

"Extremely frustrating," said Heier. "For one, they're typically not very personable, so they're not very understanding of the situation. It's purely really just a numbers game for them. It's really a discouraging situation. "

Ultimately, both Adank and Heier just want things to go back to normal.

"I think that's what kind of keeps you going, just the future, the possibilities," said Adank.

"There's still so much work to be done, but I just want to go back to my normal life," said Heier.

Just to clarify, we interviewed Adank and Heier back in March before the situation with COVID-19 buckled down in our area.

After speaking with them just a few days ago, Adank says she hasn't completely settled her claim, but has enough to get moving. Heier says he settled his insurance claim and recently broke ground for his new home.

News 18 reached out to both American Family Insurance and Secura Insurance, Adank's and Heier's respective insurance companies, for comment.

American Family told us they've paid out more than $1.5 million for damage from the storm, and that they are pleased all repairs are proceeding if not completed. Secura declined to comment.

Full statement from American Family Insurance:

”American Family pays for damage covered by our policies, and we strive to collaborate with our customers and their contractors throughout the repair or rebuild process. Our customers began making repairs from the Sept. 24 storm in October, and we’ve paid out more than $1.5 million for damage from the storm. We are pleased that all repairs are proceeding if not completed.”

Storm Resources:

Cleaning up storm debris: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Waste/StormDebris.html

Emergency preparedness: https://readywisconsin.wi.gov/

Disaster assistance: https://dma.wi.gov/DMA/wem/recovery/other-disaster-assistance

Road closures: https://511wi.gov/#:Alerts

Legal counsel: https://www.wisbar.org/forpublic/ineedalawyer/pages/disaster-relief.aspx

Katrina Lim

Katrina Lim joined the News 18 team in August 2019 as a multimedia journalist. She was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey but has lived in all time zones of the contiguous U.S.A.

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