- Associated Press - Friday, April 6, 2018

GOODMAN, Mo. (AP) - It has been a year since an early spring tornado destroyed the home of Gary and Connie Willman in Goodman.

The EF2 tornado that hit the community of 1,200 on April 4 ripped up much of their house. When it tore their roof off, exposing the attic, much of the family’s memorabilia was lost. The only souvenirs they said they were able to salvage were family photos. Even the foundation was damaged.

The old home, which had stood for 80 years, had to be completely rebuilt.

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Construction workers were recently installing drywall and making measurements for new kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities. The exterior of the house is nearly complete, although workers still need to put in the front steps leading to their porch.

The Willmans regularly check up on the progress.

“We just can’t wait to get back home,” Connie Willman told The Joplin Globe .

The retired couple and their granddaughter, Shelby Hartwell, live temporarily in a nearby home, awaiting finishing touches. They hope to move in by the end of April.

Despite the loss and the yearlong rebuilding effort, Connie Willman said: “We were very fortunate.”

Insurance covered most of their loss, and even allowed for an upgrade - their new house, at 1,600 square feet with three bedrooms, will be larger than the previous one.

In some ways, the Willmans’ story is typical for Goodman, where recovery continues and residents are eager to return to normal.

In some ways, it isn’t. Many residents who sustained some level of home and property damage did not have insurance, and no federal money was provided for the recovery and rebuilding, meaning Goodman has had to rely on itself and volunteers.

The tornado struck at 6:42 p.m. April 4, a Tuesday night, affecting more than 130 of Goodman’s 500 homes, according to one estimate. It also destroyed the local elementary school, two fire stations and a community building. Still, everyone said they were grateful because there were no deaths or serious injuries that night.

“The people of Goodman are resilient, they’ll take care of each other. … We’re like a family,” Mayor Greg Richmond told the Globe recently, adding that most of the homes have either been repaired or are being repaired, and the town is ready to move forward.

“It’s been quite a recovery process - some of it happened pretty quick, and some of it didn’t,” he said.

Goodman’s damage - estimated at around $2 million - did not meet the threshold for federal disaster help, meaning there was no money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for recovery. No one knows how many homeowners were uninsured, but about half of those who requested help from emergency managers said they were uninsured.

“It’s been tough for those residents because they had to use money out of their own pockets or find other ways to rebuild their home,” Richmond said.

Ed Tuomola, 60, was among those who did not have insurance. He relied on community support to help him rebuild.

“People were coming to help every day,” Tuomola said.

A former U.S. Navy boatswain, he also received some help from a veterans’ organization.

Lowe’s Home Improvement provided building materials at cost, and Tuomola’s 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom house was completed in November.

Tuomola said he’s grateful to have had the community rally behind him in a time of need.

Tuomola said that when the tornado struck, he was remodeling his home and was about 80 percent done. He said he had spent about $12,000 on the house before the tornado, but didn’t have insurance. As he stepped outside to check the weather that night, the sliding glass doors knocked him on the floor and fell on top of him. Lying there, he said, he saw the roof of his house lift away and debris come inside the house.

“It was pretty wild to see,” he said. “I was mortified. … I thought this was it. I was going to die, but I didn’t.”

His 73-year-old uncle, Jimmy Grife, who lives with him, was eating dinner inside their nearby trailer when a tree struck it. He also escaped injury. Tuomola believes that if that tree hadn’t fallen, the trailer would have been blown away by the tornado.

Richmond said the community is grateful for all the help it received. Several nearby fire districts responded that night, conducting search and rescue operations, going door to door to see if anyone was injured or needed help. The two fire stations in Goodman had been damaged beyond repair, but the trucks were salvaged.

“I’m just thankful that nobody got really hurt. … We were pretty fortunate,” Goodman fire Chief Keith Estes said.

The Goodman Fire Protection District is also in the process of purchasing a new building that will serve as its new headquarters, said Bud Gillmore, board president.

The city also plans to rebuild its community building, which was insured for $60,000, but no date has been set for the work, Mayor Richmond said.

“It was quite a humbling experience to see how people from all over the area gave their time and energy to help Goodman,” Richmond said. Nearly 1,000 volunteers showed up in the first few weeks to help repair roofs, clear debris and fix up public spaces damaged by the twister, including the ballparks on the northwest side of town.

Estes said the town was also fortunate in that the tornado hit at night, when all the children were out of school.

The school was the heart of the community, he said, and the place where people gathered for various events. When the school was destroyed, it was as if part of the town’s identity was taken away, Estes said.

“I hope the school will help revitalize this town so that the community continues to grow,” he added.

Goodman is part of the Neosho School District, which made room for the school’s 42 staff members and 330 students at Neosho Middle School while it worked out a plan for rebuilding.

A couple of weeks ago, the district reached a settlement with its insurance carrier for $10.7 million, which will cover the cost of a new elementary school and its contents, said Superintendent Dan Decker during a recent board meeting. The board plans to build a 55,000-square-foot elementary school to house prekindergarten through fourth-grade students.

The district is still waiting to hear whether it will receive FEMA funding to provide safe rooms that could serve both the school and the community.

Last fall, the district hired Branco Enterprises, of Neosho, as its construction management company and Sapp Design Associates Architects and Toth & Associates for the engineering work.

Goodman Principal Samantha Hamilton said they have been working closely with all of the parties involved as they plan to rebuild the school.

“We want to let the community know that the kids are coming back home,” Hamilton said.


Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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