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Picking up the Pieces: Dexter Families Still Displaced 6 Months After Tornado

While their homes are being rebuilt, residents in Dexter and Dexter Township are still living out of suitcases and hotels six months later.

Six months after a powerful EF3 tornado ripped through Dexter, life for local residents is far from normal.

"We still get a lot of gawkers," Blair Taylor, a resident of the Carriage Hills subdivision in Dexter Township said. "(Coming back to the neighborhood) after being away for so long leaves you with a sense of disconnection. Six months ago I was really involved, but now we're just trying to create a life again. It's like falling down the rabbit hole into a whole new world."

The township, along with Huron Farms in the Village of Dexter, was one of the most heavily affected areas in the storm's path.

Taylor, who hasn't spoken much about the tornado since it hit, said she still remembers watching the sky over her house turn black and the funnel, which packed winds between 130 to 140 miles per hour, circle above her house.

"I could see these massive doors and debris being tossed around in the sky like a deck of cards," she recalls.

Transformers near the family's house were damaged and trees were ripped from the ground, but Blair said she never felt scared.

"I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, watching everything float by; I couldn't move," she said.

Eventually the winds ripped a hole in the family's house, causing rain to pour in through the ceiling.

"It was like watching an amazing waterfall all centralized in our house," she said.

Due to significant water damage, Taylor, her husband John, and their two daughters, were forced to relocate to a hotel until repairs could be made on the home.

"It's been tough. This is our fourth hotel we've moved to in six months," she said Monday. "Hopefully we'll be coming home Sunday."

The constant moving has been particularly hard on the family's pets, two of which — a dog and a rabbit — have since died.

"A lot of it had to do with the stress of the storm I think," Taylor said.

Down the street, Sherri Palmieri and her husband were one of the lucky few who only had minor damage from the storm, including loss of a fence. Still, the couple has spent the last several months working to clear debris and fallen trees from their yard.

"We lost many trees and occurred damage to our split rail fencing. Our biggest issue is the fence repair," Palmieri said.

Replacing the fence will cost roughly $1,500, half of which will be covered by the couple's insurance.

"We are are looking to do the work ourselves. Eventually, we would also like to replace some of the trees that we lost, but we are so grateful that our home wasn't damaged, that trees and fencing are minor issues in the bigger picture," she said.

Immediately following the storm, the couple received help from St. Joseph Catholic Church, the People's Church in Pinckney, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Group and complete strangers and neighbors that walked up with rakes and shovels and asked, "What can we do?"

"It was overwhelming to receive such selfless acts of charity," Palmieri said.

Palmieri planned to reach out to the Dexter Relief Fund for help to pay for the fence, however the fund has since stopped sending money to individual residents.

"We haven't asked for any help because we would have hated to take money that someone might have needed for their houses or food for their table. A fence is the least of the necessities, but now it's just hanging there and winter is coming," she said.

Nancy Paul, director of Faith in Action, said the relief fund has less than $50,000 available, which has been set aside to pay for replanting efforts and large stump grinding, tree procurement, planting, and re-sodding.

To date the fund has disbursed $265,000 to over 300 individual households, provided two weeks of free summer day camps for Dexter youth, and services for large tree stump removal.

"These funds have been critical in helping many families remain solvent during their rebuilding efforts," Paul said. "In the fall we will be looking at a way to help homeowners remove a lot of the glass that is still in their yards."

'Everything is upside down'

On Monday, the sounds of hammers and saws could still be heard biting through the cool crisp autumn air in Carriage Hills, serving as a constant reminder to homeowners of the damage that occurred in their neighborhoods.

"We are doing the best we can," Taylor said. "This whole experience has been an amazing life changing event, but in a good way."

Taylor's daughter Olivia said since the tornado hit, the family has tried to lead a more positive life.

"It was hard to see anything positive at first, but we laugh together and have fun. We're really tight. I think this whole experience has brought us closer together," she said.

Though the family has lost more than 200 trees, a car, and most of their personal belongings, Blair said the family has moved gradually beyond the shock of the tornado to acceptance.

"No one was injured. Things are things and they can be replaced," she said.

"And besides, at least now we can see the Fourth of July fireworks from our house," Olivia joked.

Sharon Uren September 18, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Don't forget those folks along Dexter Pinckney Rd who have been affected by the tornado.
Sharon Uren September 18, 2012 at 01:34 PM
We too are very grateful for all the volunteer help that we received. We could not have done it without all their assistance. We do have folks that haven't been able to get back into their homes. We have a neighbor that is still waiting for their home to begin being rebuilt.
Dexter Mom September 19, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Sorry, but there are many facts, quotes, and details that are wrong in this story. The author has the right intent and purpose but needs to re interview or at least check with Blair, John, and Olivia before publishing a story with at least five misinformation points.
Daniel Lai September 19, 2012 at 05:06 PM
What points were misinformed?
Dexter Mom September 19, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Quote from facebook from one of the Taylor daughters, "There are 3 daughters, and a hole wasn't ripped in the side of my house, didn't loose possessions (other than the car), and lost only 100+ trees...." The house being shifted from it's foundation was the reason for the rebuild, not water damage. But again, I like the article and am very sympathetic to those families that are still rebuilding and putting their lives back together.
BradP September 20, 2012 at 04:33 AM
"Email the author" might be a better way of clearing up this sort of confusion. He could then contact the family again and just post a revision if changes are needed. Plus, facebook is a bit like wikipedia. Interesting, but not always accurate either.
Dexter Mom September 20, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Thanks Brad. I already emailed the author who has replied, and I know the family personally.

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