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WY town devastated

Last Friday afternoon, Ramona Hofer heard the tornado siren in her neighborhood and looked out the front door.

BY HEATHER MOYER | WRIGHT, Wyo. | August 19, 2005

"They don't know what they're going to do from this point on."

—Ramona Hofer

Last Friday afternoon, Ramona Hofer heard the tornado siren in her neighborhood and looked out the front door.

"We saw the tornado circling overhead and debris flying everywhere, so we made a run for our bathroom," said Hofer, who had her grandson with her in her home that day. "It sounded like bombs were hitting the side of my house; I've never had such an experience. I felt the house moving."

They made it through okay, but the rest of Wright was not as lucky.

The F-2 tornado killed two people and destroyed more than 80 homes in the small northeast Wyoming mining community of 1,300. This week, the mayor of Wright said 454 people are now homeless and 85 percent of the affected families do not have insurance. Officials are pushing for federal aid, and in the meantime, the community's churches are assisting the families as they can.

Hofer, a member of Wright's Prairieview Assemblies of God Church, said she and her fellow church members are walking through the neighborhoods helping clean up debris and secure whatever the families need. The destruction is shocking. "Literally, you pick up the trailers piece-by-piece," she said. Hofer has story after story about trailer homes just exploding when the tornado roared through.

For those families still able to live in their homes, Hofer worries about how they will make food. The gas pipelines coming into town were heavily damaged by the tornado. It could take weeks to fix those lines, she said, and that combined with some families still not having power only makes recovery more challenging.

For the rest, Hofer said she has no idea where people are going to live. "They don't know what they're going to do from this point on," explained Hofer. "There are no rentals in this town."

But the spirit of the community has strengthened, she quickly added, noting that many neighbors have taken in some families without housing. Others have helped their neighbors sift through debris. Even local farmers and ranchers have brought in heavy equipment to help remove shattered trailer frames and foundations. She's even gotten several calls from people outside of Wright wanting to donate trailers to the affected families.

"This town has been incredible, so is everyone who has come here from the outside," Hofer said. "I cannot believe the camaraderie and the oneness of the town. Everyone just jumped in to help each other."

Hofer's church has been taking donations for the families, as have the other churches in Wright.

Sister Gretchen Krueger of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church said the church's basement is full of items for the families. Parishioners are helping sort donations as well as walking through neighborhoods to assist the families. The best way out-of-towners can help, she said, is through financial donations. Those nearby can help out with basic needs such as hygiene supplies and diapers.

Krueger agreed that the town has certainly pulled together, but that the emotions are still close to the surface. "The community is still in a state of shock," she explained. "You hear the stories from everybody; the emotions are still very raw. It will take a while (to recover), even for those who were not in it because they all know someone who was."

Krueger said one man in town has been helping take debris to the local landfill. "He said it's heart-wrenching to see toys and things that belonged to kids. He also keeps finding family pictures and tries to bring those back to town. It's little things, but they're big, they affect people."

She worries how families without insurance will recover. One family in her church lost everything when the tornado destroyed their trailer, and the father was already unemployed. There are also many single mother families in the town with little income and savings.

According to Hofer, the churches will gather soon to discuss the recovery process as the transition from immediate response to long-term recovery is now happening.

The recovery will take years, she said.

"This was not a little thing, it was devastating. Everything was wiped out and blown away," Hofer lamented. "I can look out my back window and see destroyed homes. I can look right across the street and see destroyed homes. I'm overwhelmed. These people are hurting and wondering how they'll get home."

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