REVERE — With chainsaws buzzing loudly nearby, residents of this city battered by a tornado packed an American Legion post beyond capacity Wednesday night to question city officials and insurance companies about the ongoing cleanup.
“I’m happy to see so many people here to learn about the relief effort, but I’m also saddened to see how many people were impacted by this devastating storm that no one expected,” Mayor Daniel Rizzo told the room of more than 150 residents, calling it a “miracle” that no one was killed or seriously injured.
The tornado on Monday damaged 65 structures and left 13 uninhabitable, Rizzo said. Insurance officials at the meeting said they were dealing with more than 300 auto and property claims.
“We are trying to get this city restored as quickly as we possibly can, and we want to help you get your lives back on track, too,” Rizzo said.
Residents at the meeting applauded the Red Cross and Revere’s Department of Public Works for tireless cleanup and response efforts. But as recovery operations shift away from immediate crises like natural gas leaks, downed power lines, unstable buildings, and blocked roads, the need — and frustration — remained great.
“The city of Revere did a phenomenal job cleaning up, but where’s the state?” said 37-year-old homeowner Niko Kostopoulos, whose property sustained extensive damage from wind and fallen tree limbs. “If the city has to pay the bill, it’s going to fall back on the taxpayers. . . . We fought hard for the casino, and now we’re going to have to fight just as hard to get some aid.”
Residents were also still clearly affected by the severe weather.
“It was so selective. It would hit a house, skip over the next one, and then hit another house,” said Pat Tata, 87, who described hearing a “devastating, astounding roar” as the tornado passed through his backyard. “There are big chunks of logs all over. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Among residents’ concerns were security around damaged homes, the lack of federal aid, how to dispose of tree limbs and building debris, and the cost and logistics of insurance claims.
Some families are homeless, their property declared uninhabitable. Others are putting tarps over yawning holes in their roofs, and many are tackling complicated insurance claims after massive tree limbs fell onto more than one property.
In addition, there were families who were spared direct damage from the tornado but lost costly groceries to spoilage when the power went out, and who are now relying on the Red Cross for food.
At Wednesday’s meeting, several residents slammed the Federal Emergency Management Agency for not providing aid. Officials said that while the state’s congressional delegation was working to secure various kinds of federal assistance, the tornado damage simply does not meet the agency’s criteria for a disaster.
“I share your frustration. We can fight, fight, fight, but the guidelines are the guidelines,” an exasperated Rizzo told angry residents. “I can’t march up to the federal government and say, ‘You’re going to pay us whether we qualify or not.’
“You should be sure that we are going to continue to fight for every dollar we can to subsidize your losses.”
Many in the standing-room-only crowd were frustrated, having arrived after many hours of hard labor clearing yards. Residents rolled their eyes and made comments under their breath when Rizzo said insurance companies were sure to be acting quickly because the tornado was a high-profile incident.
But they shouted their agreement when one man tongue-lashed the state for not providing more assistance, and the residents later pressed for particulars about trash pickup schedules.
One of the most common questions was how residents should clean up fallen trees and branches. Insurance typically does not cover such tree removal unless the limbs damaged a covered structure.
Compounding the problem, the DPW cannot remove trees that fell on private property because of liability concerns, leaving residents to pick up the tab.
Rizzo told residents to call 211, and that United Way workers might be able to help bring debris to the sidewalk, where public works crews will feed branches into mobile chippers. DPW workers will make extra pickups of trash and yard and building debris, like broken glass and siding, throughout the next two weeks, officials said.
Police said they were adding extra patrols to ward off thieves tempted by damaged fences and unsecured homes. They also warned residents to be wary of those who exploit disasters, including unlicensed contractors, people offering fraudulent loans, and copper thieves.
Despite their gripes, residents were quick to show appreciation, too. They gave a lengthy round of applause when the DPW chief emotionally thanked them for providing water and food to his exhausted workers while managing their own problems, and again when Rizzo said that calls from residents offering assistance had poured into his office.
Red Cross disaster officer Leighton Jones praised the residents.
“You guys have supported each other amazingly,” Jones said. “It’s only the third day, and I’ve seen you all with such great spirits and attitudes.”