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Devastation in Gaylord: One Month Later

It’s been one month since a tornado ripped through Gaylord in Otsego County. 9&10 checked back to see how far they’ve come, and what’s left to be done.

May 20th, 2022: a deadly tornado touched down in Gaylord, claiming two lives, leaving dozens injured, and leaving a path of destruction that also left many homeless. There is still evidence of the devastation and destruction all throughout town. and four weeks later there is plenty of rebuilding to be done.

Chris Czhakowski runs Gaylord Refuge, a nonprofit working to find emergency housing in both the short and long term, “It’s housing. I can’t emphasize that enough,” she says. “I wish we could come up with more housing in our county here.”

Karin Beyer is the Otsego County Community Foundation Director of Community Philanthropy, and she agrees. “We had a housing shortage before this, so this has compounded the problem.”

The tornado left a trail of damage – but it’s more than just structural. It’s emotional and financial, and it left many families homeless. Czhakowski says they’ve helped 30-40 families, and still one month later, “I probably have, approximately 19 families still in hotels. I do emergency housing, hotel housing. vouchers. I get them into the hotel and we work a plan, there’s a process to it.”

Normally they serve 30 families a year – but they’ve seen 30 to 40 families is just the last month. “Our season runs from October to mid-May. And I may see 30 clients in that timeframe. but since the tornado I have seen 30-40 clients. So yeah, it’s been pretty hectic.”

Hotel rooms are not ideal, especially for families. “They’ve got children so we’re trying to find 2 and 3 bedroom homes. which is very difficult,” Czhakowski says.

Beyer sees the frustration. “They don’t know what do, they don’t have shelter. [They say] what are we going to do? Where are we going to go next?”

The Community Foundation is helping with finances – but a worker shortage and supply chain issues are impacting Gaylord too, in their biggest time of need. “It’s even going to impact those homes that were fully insured. There, it’s going to take longer. the builders are very busy. they’re going to get spread very thin. so things I think are going to go slower.”

Czhakowski sees it too. “They’re running against the supply chain. I know they needed a special door for one of the trailers. And that’s like 2-3 weeks before they can get their hands on that door to put in,” she says. “It’s putting us behind schedule so that’s why now we have to come up with a backup plan for getting people out of hotels. We’re looking at, there was a company downstate that was going to bring RVs up here. So we’re trying to find a location for the RVs.”

Beyer adds, “Right now we’re trying to get people who are being sheltered in hotels back into their homes that can be repaired, with critical repairs through Habitat for Humanity. Habitat is also helping coordinate repairs and rebuilds wherever possible.”

“Our mission is to make sure everyone has a safe place, a safe, decent place to stay,” said executive director Aini Abukar. “Our goal is not a sprint but a marathon stage right now. Just to make sure the families are safe. Now we’re moving on to our long-term recovery. Hopefully we will come up for some air soon. Our last stage is to rebuild. Just getting them back into their homes before winter comes.”

Beyer adds, “This is not going to get all solved in another month. it’s going to be a while down, into years.” She says from “May 20th to now, the community has rallied so much.”

Local nonprofits remain a number one source of assistance for families impacted by the tornado. and the Community Foundation says through Thursday night there is a 3-to-1 matching challenge where your dollars will go three times as far to help families in need.

You can find information on how to help here.