UROC, students help in north side cleanup effort

Hundreds of volunteers from the University of Minnesota flocked to North Minneapolis to help clean up wreckage from the May 22 tornado that ravaged the neighborhood.

Student volunteers work together to clean up fallen trees on Thursday in North Minneapolis.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Student volunteers work together to clean up fallen trees on Thursday in North Minneapolis.

Kaitlin Walker

Hundreds of volunteers from the University of Minnesota flocked to North Minneapolis to help clean up wreckage from the May 22 tornado that ravaged the neighborhood.

University students, faculty and alumni have volunteered their time and energy, and many University organizations have played key roles in disaster relief.

The tornado killed two and injured about 30 people, according to city officials. The city estimated that it caused about $166 million in damage.

Four days after the tornado struck, tree branches and other debris spilled onto streets and inundated sidewalks. Some roads were so clogged that they were reduced to one lane of traffic, while others were blocked off completely.

Houses were missing roofs, windows and porches. Cars were crushed or dented by fallen trees.

Erika Prater, a University graduate student in art history, has been volunteering since May 23. She decided to pitch in after finding a link online to Urban Homeworks, a local non-profit helping in cleanup efforts.

âÄúI figured I was on summer break,âÄù Prater said. âÄúI should make myself useful.âÄù

Prater worked with a group of University and high school students to remove a large tree leaning against a North Minneapolis house.

A city worker used a chainsaw to cut the tree into pieces. Chunk by chunk, Prater and her group moved the tree to the curb.

Volunteers cheered as a large branch caught in the gutter of the house was finally freed.

Victor Rostam said he was happy to see so many young volunteers as he watched from his neighboring yard.

âÄúI feel so good that people are doing positive things,âÄù Rostam said. âÄúTheyâÄôre doing good things for us.âÄù

Besides clearing away large trees and debris, volunteers helped homeowners and tenants attach tarps to roofs and board up windows. They also swept sidewalks and raked yards.

Jon Lundberg, a North Minneapolis resident and volunteer manager for Urban Homeworks, said he has talked to volunteers who have come from all over Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, including a group of lumberjacks.

âÄúA man from northern Minnesota, a big lumberjack, showed up and said, âÄòIâÄôve got 12 chainsaws and eight guys. What do you want us to do?âÄôâÄù Lundberg said.

The response from the community has been overwhelming, Lundberg said.

âÄúItâÄôs been everybody. ItâÄôs been every race, every age and every gender,âÄù Lundberg said.

More than 2,200 people have volunteered with the organization since May 23, Urban Homeworks reported.

At least 30 members of the Minnesota International Student Association, a student group on campus, volunteered with the group on Thursday.  Other MISA members volunteered Friday.

âÄúWe have so many people as members, and we thought it would be a great idea to put that to use,âÄù said Dema Mohammed, a member of MISA.

Meanwhile, the UniversityâÄôs Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center, located in North Minneapolis, worked with city officials and Urban Homeworks to help residents in the area.

Starting Thursday, volunteers with UROC went door-to-door, checking in on residents, delivering food and handing out flyers with recovery resource information.

UROC had about 150 volunteers Thursday and about 200 volunteers both Friday and Saturday, said Wokie Freeman, UROC assistant director of programs and operations. Freeman guessed 50 to 75 percent of their volunteers were students, faculty or alumni from the University.

As of Tuesday, UROC volunteers had delivered food and water to more than 750 houses, Freeman said.

The city has scheduled an official cleanup day for June 4.

UROC Executive Director Heidi Barajas walked through one of the neighborhoods early Friday. She said the positivity within the community is impressive.

âÄúThose people who have been affected, theyâÄôre still so proud of their community and the way that North Side has responded to this emergency,âÄù Barajas said.