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'There's no end in sight': Barrie tornado victims say movement to rebuild has been slow

'There’s absolutely nothing that has happened to my house. It looks the exact same as it did tornado day,' says one woman, whose home was damaged in the July 15 twister

Alex and Andrés Galeota took some time with their families to check on their parents’ home on Saturday and assessed some of the repairs that have been done and still have to be done.

The elder Galeotas live on Mapleview Drive East, backing on to Sun King Crescent, where an EF2 tornado tore through the neighbourhood July 15, resulting in approximately $75 million in insured damage.

Blue tarps are still draped over roofs and openings and plywood boards fill gaps where glass panes once were in homes right across the southeast Barrie neighbourhood.

The Galeotas consider themselves lucky. They’ve had damage estimated at $80,000, but most of it was to their garage, roof shingles and fencing so they were able to stay in their home. 

Anything that required immediate attention to prevent further damage  including a temporary patch job to the roof  was quickly taken care of, they say.

“You can see all the houses and the work to be done,” said Alex, pointing to the immediate neighbourhood which included two homes that were removed right to the foundation. “But for the work to be done here, they came and it was done right away  the small repairs.

"I think they’re geared up for next week to start building," he added. 

Meanwhile, others wait, anxious that as winter approaches their homes may remain in a state of disrepair and exposed to the elements. Many have also been forced out of their home and see no prospect of returning any time soon.

Initially, the city issued 70 unsafe orders and so far 14 have been lifted. Five houses are being demolished and three of them have permits for reconstruction. Another 24 permits have been issued for repairs.

“We can usually issue those permits within a couple of days, because we do have a tornado triage team that is dedicated to making sure that happens as quickly as possible,” Andrea Miller, the city's general manager of infrastructure and growth management, told BarrieToday. “We’ve only received 29 permits for renovations so far.

“There’s a lot that are outstanding. We’re doing followup on that," she added. "They have to clear the unsafe order for it to get lifted.”

Kim Ridgers was already struggling with on and off closures and the challenges related to keeping a small business afloat during the pandemic when she saw her garbage can fly 30 feet into the air on July 15, forcing her to seek refuge in her basement.

Now she finds herself in an overpriced rental unit hoping the insurance company sends the cheques in time to cover her rent with no progress being made on her house, which she had to vacate.

“There’s absolutely nothing that has happened to my house. It looks the exact same as it did tornado day,” said Ridger. “The roof was tarped, but there’s been zero repairs.

“This last rain storm that we had, it literally rained in my home again, so the damage is worse. ... There’s no end in sight on when this is going to be over," she added. 

The tarps over the back of the house where the roof opened up and where panes were blown out were not sufficient to repel the recent rain storm, Ridgers said.

She says she understands that renovation companies and tradespeople were already busy before the tornado hit and there was the added pandemic-related complication of a lack of supplies.

“And now over 100 homes that I’m aware of, damaged in Barrie, or 100 families misplaced… it’s just completely taxed the system and nothing has really progressed,” Ridgers said. “I’m trying to get a yoga studio out of a pandemic massive debt situation. I don’t have full-time hours to stay on top of insurance and contractors and whoever else I have to call.”

Next door to the Galeotas, who expect they’ll soon see a new fence, their neighbour Kristine Luesher may just have to continue to settle with the one section that remained upright in her yard for now.

She said her husband is in touch with the insurers every second day, but there’s still no word on when any work may begin. Her husband did the temporary repair job on the roof in the absence of help.

“At first, they said they were going to be working on the people who were unable to get back into their houses,” said the mother of two. “But then talking to the other neighbours, everybody’s getting the same speech.”

Communication is key, said Gloria Haydock, consumer and industry relations manager for the Insurance Bureau of Canada. The pandemic has really made things more difficult, she added.

“Claims involving rebuilding take time, these are complex claims,” she said. “There are many moving parts”

The process begins with the insurers working with engineers to be followed by the many stages of repair that may involve architects as well as contractors and the need to get the necessary permits.

Then there’s the challenge accessing material and supply chains with links eroded by the pandemic. And that’s on top of a pre-existing labour shortage.

“The biggest thing I can say is stay in communication with your claims representative,” said Haydock.


About the Author: Marg. Bruineman

Marg. Bruineman is an award-winning journalist who focuses on justice issues and human interest stories
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