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Published: Tuesday, 6/8/2010

It's 'people helping people' in Dundee

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DUNDEE, Mich. - Dundee residents went to work yesterday, but it wasn't a normal start to the week.

The tornado that smashed its way through the community early Sunday morning left villagers with a whole new set of jobs to do. There were downed power lines to be repaired, debris to be collected, people to feed and hydrate, and a lot of damaged property that needed fixing.

Luckily for residents, plenty of help was on hand.

Emergency crews, police officials, public works agencies, and citizen volunteers came from cities and towns throughout the area to assist with the recovery efforts. They joined neighbors, teachers, students, and families resolute on helping their village get back on its feet.

"Everyone's thinking of different ways to help, it's really amazing," said George Aren, a Salvation Army director who was giving out food and water to needy residents. "I haven't talked to one person yet who was upset or mad. It's just people helping people."

Although no one was killed in the tornado, about 10 people were taken to hospitals and many suffered minor injuries. In Monroe County, 15 homes were completely destroyed, 162 sustained major damage and a total of 1,717 buildings were affected.

Most of Dundee remained without power yesterday afternoon, and officials said electricity wouldn't be fully restored for several days.

In the village proper, one of the biggest tasks was clearing up a forest-worth of fallen trees and branches. The sound of chain saws filled the air as people labored to turn the mess of leaves and wood into neatly stacked piles in front of driveways.

Don Merkle, who lives on Barnum Street near the village high school, enlisted the help of a neighbor to regain access to his front door after a tree fell across it. His roof was badly damaged in the storm and his truck was totaled.

Although he wasn't hurt in the tornado, the ex-Army medic said it was one of the most frightening experiences of his life.

"I was more scared last night than I was out in Iraq," he said. "I thought I had a 50/50 chance. I thought that was it."

Outside Dundee Middle School, several dozen administrators, teachers, and students worked for hours to clear up a press box and other debris that had fallen on the football field. There were no classes because of the power outage.

"It's my school and I want it to look nice again," said 15-year-old Jared Williams, who came out with a friend to help. "I think it's going to take a while to get everything back up, so it's good there's no school today."

Dundee Community Schools Superintendent Bruce Nelson said schools would remain closed today and until power was restored. A graduation ceremony that was canceled over the weekend has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in the Eastern Michigan Convocation Center in Ypsilanti.

While most people wrestled with fallen trees and minor property damage, some residents were facing a far more serious situation.

On the outskirts of the village along M-50, several houses were utterly destroyed.

Brenda York, 47, stared hopelessly at what remained of the home and nursery supply store she owned with her husband, Mark. The roof of the house blew off in the tornado, and the building and greenhouse where they ran the nursery were flattened.

"It's done," Mrs. York said. "My business is inoperable, no money coming in. I just feel devastated because it's my business and my home."

Half a mile down the road, Joe Britton picked through a pile of rubble that had once been his ex-wife's house. His former spouse, Sue Britton, was in the hospital with a broken ankle, shoulder, and ribs after she got trapped under the home when the tornado passed through, he said.

He was trying to salvage a few possessions.

"But everything is either bent, broke, or something missing off of it," Mr. Britton said.

All along M-50 and throughout the village, DTE Energy crews worked to restore power. Utility spokesman John Austerberry said around 200 utility poles were torn down in the storm and it could take until Thursday to restore power to everyone.

"When that many poles are damaged it means we have to really start with rebuilding the foundation of the system and then bringing it back into service," Mr. Austerberry said. "It's an unusual restoration effort."

Several businesses, including the sporting-goods store Cabela's, had reopened yesterday. The nearby Walgreens offered free water to Dundee residents, and an Applebee's restaurant was giving away food.

Patrick Burtch, manager for the Village of Dundee, said he expected the cleanup efforts to continue into next week. He said the tornado damage had rendered the town unrecognizable, but he was thankful for the help of nearby communities.

"There's just really been an outpouring of support, both monetarily and with workers," Mr. Burtch said.

The village has set up a Facebook page under "Village of Dundee Michigan" with up-to-the-minute information on the relief efforts.

People can also donate money to the efforts by going to the village's Web site at dundeevillage.net.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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