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Just before midnight on May 22, 2019, an EF-3 tornado hit Mid-Missouri, ripping roofs off of homes, downing trees and powerlines and changing the lives of hundreds of people.

Two years later, and rebuilding is still underway.

There are still 12 buildings that need to be torn down in the city, and even more that need to be repaired after the tornado, according to data from Jefferson City’s building official. Since the tornado hit:

  • 73 residential buildings have been demolished
  • 16 non-residential buildings have been torn down (includes apartment buildings)
  • 11 residential structures are yet to be demolished
  • 1 commercial structure is yet to be demolished
  • 138 net housing units have been lost
  • 37 residential structures are yet to be repaired

The city is also still giving out permits to rebuild buildings. Those permits include:

  • 5 new single-family homes
  • 61 commercial construction permits issued (valued at $ 11.1 million)
  • 145 residential construction permits issued (valued at $ 2.4 million)

The operations director of Jefferson City’s Public Works Department, Britt Smith, said it has been a long road, and it’s still not over.

“I’d love to say they are perfect and everything is great, but we are on the right path. Jefferson City has really shown how strong it is, JC Strong has really been true,” Smith said. “Some areas are a lot slower than we want, but other areas, it’s far better than we could have ever imagined just two years ago.”

He said the areas that are still damaged or vacant are largely private property, saying some could be landlords who are not local. Some are people still struggling to figure out what to do.

“Those things certainly can be an eyesore for the neighborhood and it’s tough for everyone, but then there are peple who are that are still trying to figure out how they are going to rebuild, and what are they going to rebuild, and what it’s going to look like,” Smith said.

“It’s a dance to give them the space they need to make the right decision, but at the same time not hurt their adjacent property owners,” Smith said.

Smith said utilities damaged in the storm have been repaired and are back in full operation, and hundreds of truckloads of debris have been removed.

“The hard part is rebuilding, and the associated insurance and all of those things that go along with that, so that’s the process we are in right now,” Smith said. “Recovery is always a long road. Cleanup seems to be the heavy lifting, but it’s the recovery that’s the long road.”

The city is repairing the historic Missouri State Penitentiary with special disaster funds. Meanwhile, a neighborhood near Jefferson City High School that was heavily damaged by the tornado is about to be turned into a sports complex for the school district.

But as for when things might get back to “normal,” Smith said that’s a hard question to answer

“What is that new normal? No one really knows, and that’s the scary and exciting part of it,” Smith said.

Some organizations are still trying to help people find homes and build homes where major destruction happened, such as River City Habitat for Humanity.

“Right after the tornado we had no idea what we were going to do,” Executive Director Susan Cook-Williams said.

Habitat built eight houses that tornado victims had first priority to buy at 0% interest. Cook-Williams said two more are in the works and she expects even more after that.

“It’s two years and people think it should be over, and things should be back to normal, and it’s really not,” Cook-Williams said. “It never ends for us, because the tornado impacted housing, and that’s what we do. It’s just an ongoing process.”

She said the tornado exposed some of Jefferson City’s weaknesses when it comes to housing.

“Affordable housing was hard to find before the tornado, and the tornado just kinda ripped off that Band-Aid and made everybody aware of it,” Cook-Williams said.

Jessica Green and her four children were renting a home on Jackson Street that was hit by the tornado.

“We knew it was storming and stuff but then we felt the house shake, and I ran upstairs, grabbed the kids that were upstairs, ran downstairs, then the next thing I know I can hear people outside shouting ‘hey, is everyone ok,’ and we opened the door and there were power lines down and trees everywhere. It was crazy,” Green said.

Her home was damaged, so her family went to stay with her sister for about two weeks. Green moved back into the house, but said they probably shouldn’t have because there was still damage that had not been repaired.

Green said her family then moved into a Habitat house, in the same neighborhood they were living in.

“To see the neighborhood going back up is nice, really really nice,” Green said. “I’m hoping to see houses get put up, that people can come into and afford to live in that more than likely will be their own, and just seeing kids outside playing again, that would be nice, too.”

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