Why vet’s tornado-hit home still doesn’t have windows, even as cold comes

Published: Thursday, November 07, 2019 @ 5:06 PM

Elmo Blanken's home was uninsured against the EF4 tornado, which took out some windows that remain covered with only tarps as temperatures reach freezing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dayton Daily News reporters Chris Stewart and Josh Sweigart — joined at times by Storm Center 7 Chief Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs — are traveling the length of the largest of the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes. It tore a path across Montgomery County, impacting thousands of homes and businesses. We are gathering people’s stories and investigating obstacles to recovery. This story is part of that coverage. Go here for the full project.

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UPDATE: Since this story published, a district manager for Lowe’s Home Improvement told the Dayton Daily News his organization is offering to replace not only the windows missing since the storm, but all the windows on Elmo Blanken’s home. Look for a full story soon. 

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ORIGINAL STORY: 

Tornado-damaged homes across the Miami Valley remain exposed to the elements as snow and near record-breaking freezing temperatures enter the forecast.

That includes the Northridge house of Elmo Blanken, an 83-year-old retired bricklayer and Air Force veteran. Blanken’s house has only blue tarp covering three of his windows. He lives there alone with his cockatiel named Pretty Girl and his cat Two Bits.

WALKING THE PATH OF THE STORM: At least 750 homes still empty in Trotwood after tornado

The windows were shattered on Memorial Day, when an EF4 tornado ripped across Montgomery County. Blanken has lived in the house since 1967 and has no homeowner’s insurance.

“Didn’t have the money,” he said.

Dayton Daily News reporters met Blanken as they travel the path of the EF4 tornado across the county interviewing those impacted and investigating how to overcome obstacles to recovery.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided him with enough money to replace his roof, Blanken said, but not the windows. He didn’t appeal to FEMA for more money because a friend offered to fix the windows.

LISTEN: Walking the Path of the Storm Podcast

“My buddy is going to put Plexiglas in,” Blanken said. “He’s supposed to be here Saturday. If he don’t make it, I’ll have to do some more work on it.”

Meanwhile temperatures are plummeting. The current Storm Center 7 forecast includes bitter cold mornings in the low 20s today and Saturday. Snow is possible next week.

Blanken isn’t alone, said Laura Mercer, executive director of the Miami Valley Long-Term Recovery Operations Group. Her group has printed up 1,500 door hangers that volunteers are distributing to tornado-damaged properties in Montgomery, Greene and Miami counties.

RELATED: Volunteer effort helps seal up tornado-impacted homes before winter

The hangers say: “Volunteers can provide FREE assistance with roof tarping and boarding of windows to help keep you safe and warm.” It directs people to call 937-966-0037 for help through the program.

The organization is planning a Button Up for Winter Weekend Nov. 15 and 16. Volunteer opportunities are available through the website MVStrong.org. 

Blue tarps remain ubiquitous along the tornado path. Many homes were tarped over and sealed immediately after the storm, but issues with insurance and contractors have slowed repairs. Over the months, many tarps and plywood boards have broken or blown off.

INTERACTIVE: Map shows thousands of tornado damaged properties in 3-county area

As homeowners wait for repairs, some are moving back into the houses after months-long stays elsewhere.

Unoccupied homes can suffer irreparable damage if not properly sealed for the winter, Mercer said. If someone is living there, sealing it is even more important “to give people a chance to make sure they’re safe and warm.”

“There is no reason for someone who is uninsured or under-insured to struggle to rebuild on their own,” Mercer said.

Tornado survivors needing help with other issues can call the United Way Helpline at 211.

INVESTIGATION: ‘Disaster after the disaster:’ Fighting insurance over tornado damage

Blanken isn’t asking for help. This news organization delivered him information from the long-term recovery group, but he is stoically self-reliant. He said he has electric heat.

“I’m used to challenges,” he said, standing on his front porch with a sign to the left of his door saying “WARNING. There is nothing here worth dying for,” and a American flag on the right.

“I’ve got heaters. As long as the electricity stays on, I’m all right,” he said. “I’ve survived a long time.”

TORNADO RECOVERY

The Dayton Daily News is investigating obstacles to recovery for survivors of this year’s Memorial Day tornadoes, and exploring opportunities for our region to rebuild stronger. As part of this effort, reporters Josh Sweigart and Chris Stewart, along with Storm Center 7’s Chief Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs, are walking the path of the largest tornado that touched down that night. Find our coverage at DaytonDailyNews.com/Tornado.