Celina working to recover one year after the Memorial Day Tornadoes

CELINA — Celina is between 90 and 95 percent recovered from the May 27, 2019 tornado, the city’s Mayor said one day shy of the storm’s one-year anniversary.

“When you look around and see the construction, you see the progress going forward,” Mayor Jeff Hazel said Tuesday. “It shows what we do as a community to keep pushing forward.”

The EF3 tornado caused significant damage to multiple Celina neighborhoods, particularly along Bruns Avenue and Fairground Road.

Celina was home to the Memorial Day Tornadoes’ lone death. Dale Hanna, 82, was killed when the storm’s winds tossed a vehicle on top of his Fairground Road home as he slept.

Hanna’s next door neighbor remembers him as a “very giving man” who was “very active in his church.”

“He’s the type of neighbor that everyone would hope to have,” Wendy Knapke said.

But what Hazel told News Center 7’s Sean Cudahy has really stood out to him in the year since the storm, is the resilience of his community.

I think about people’s ability to step outside of their normal comfort zone and say, we’ve got to do this,” Hazel said. “They just picked themselves up.”

Sandi Watercutter reopened the doors to her Celina boutique, Hometown Creations, but a sadness lingered.

While her business had rebuilt from the destruction following the May 27, 2019 tornado, none of her neighbors across the street were back in their houses.

Those first few months? “Very dark. Very dark,” she told News Center 7’s Sean Cudahy. “It was so sad for so long every night I’d leave the store after I reopened, and there was no one here at the time.”

But now, that sadness has begun to lift.

Homes are being rebuilt along Fairground Road, where Watercutter’s business sits.

Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel said delays in contractors getting home construction scheduled seem to have lessened, despite additional delays, on some projects, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some of [the contractors] were holding back, some of the [builders] said, well, ‘maybe we need more social distance,’ but [now] the builders in this area are busy,” Hazel said.

Wendy Knapke and her family felt some of the delays. Their home on Fairground Road, across from Hometown Creations, sustained catastrophic damage.

“There wasn’t anything left,” Knapke said.

After some early delays finding a contractor and further delays due to the pandemic, Knapke estimates her home is about a month away from completion. The family has lived in temporary housing since last summer. They are eager to get into their new home.

“I’m just ready to start a new chapter and put this all behind us,” Knapke said.

It’s that movement toward “normal” that has Watercutter feeling a lot more optimistic as she glances out her store’s windows these days.

“I see hope now,” Watercutter said, reflecting she takes away from the year since the tornado.

“It makes you stronger. We learned a lot. In a lot of ways, you evaluate what’s important,” she said.

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