Tornado victims voice concerns; Organizations offer help

Posted at 10:34 PM, Jul 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-15 06:09:30-04

KENTWOOD, Mich. — Several organizations were on hand during Monday night’s information meeting held at Kelloggsville Church for tornado victims in Kentwood.

City officials handed out forms to residents asking them to fill out their name, address and describe what their need is so the city can connect them with the right volunteer organization.

Representatives from the Red Cross, the National Relief Organization, Team Rubicon, the mayor’s office, the Salvation Army, World Renew, and Michigan Southern Baptist Disaster Relief spoke to residents about all the services available.

Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kepley told community members that he was proud of how quickly cleanup was accomplished over the past week, including a quick response by insurance companies, cleanup contractors and local utility crews.

Homeowners expressed concerns about debris-filled sewer drains, downed street lights and obtaining building permits from the city in order to make repairs.

During the question and answer part of the evening, several people took time to thank the fire department for their work during the evacuations, and some people even offered their own services to help.

“I’m truly glad to see you all because of what happened here in Kentwood,” said Kepley. “It could have been a lot different. You know, we can repair property. We can plant trees, but can’t bring back life.”

Another concerned expressed addressed the presence of unwanted visitors trying to take advantage of tornado victims. Venessa Remo, said that she was forced to evacuate from her home after a tree toppled into her house, said that when she returned the next day, a stranger was standing in her driveway. “I come home, and there is a man in my driveway, out of his vehicle, taking photos of my house. And I asked, ‘Can I help you?’ He told me that he lived there. I was like, ‘No you don’t. This is my house.’ So I had to call Kentwood police, and I had blocked him in at that point,” said Remo.

Remo said that her garage was also a target for thieves. “We were there and we were starting to assess what was going on. We started looking for some tools trying to get some stuff out of the way and noticed that some shovels, some rakes, some little household stuff was missing,” said Remo.

Remo expressed her concerns about safety to Mayor Kepley.

Another resident said that she doesn’t let her kids play outside since the storm, because so many strangers are walking around, not helping cleanup but instead only taking pictures and possibly stealing property.

The unwanted traffic is something Mayor Kepley said that law enforcement is trying to tackle. “We have increased the police presence in this affected area and will continue to do so until we feel that everything has been locked down and nailed down,” said Kepley.

Another community member warned of scammers who target elderly residents hit by the tornado.

But Remo said that there has been a lot of good that came come out of the storm, with people offering to help, but she said that other homeowners in her community are on high alert. “You always have those that come. You know, they say cream rises to the top, so you always get those people that come and want to help. And then you get those that have different ideas of what help is, like, ‘Let me help you with this TV, you are not going to need it anymore.'”

Another issue express was concern about vacant foreclosed properties in their neighborhood that haven’t been cleaned up at all. The city said that they are working on getting volunteer cleanup crews to those properties.