Seneca sees progress one year after EF-3 tornado, some families battling setbacks

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SENECA, SC (WSPA)– Tuesday marked one year since an EF-3 tornado ripped through Seneca, and the city said there has been remarkable progress.

“The recovery effort has actually been remarkable considering the amount of devastation we received.  We were hit by a EF-3 tornado that measured a half a mile wide and traveled over 16 miles.  To make matters worse it’s path was directly through a densely populated area with heavy tree cover.  We were just a few miles an hour short of an EF-4 tornado,” said Scott Moulder, City of Seneca Administrator.

However, some residents said recovery is taking longer than expected.

“Insurances going back and forth with different people,” said Sandy Hunter, a storm victim.

Some people also experienced problems with contractors.

“When they walked off the job, they wouldn’t relinquish the right for that permit. We had to fight with them for about a month before we were even allowed to work on our own house,” said Kim Sentieri, a storm victim.

Sentieri said his family wanted quality work, so the contractors left. It took the Sentieri and his wife, Kay Brocklesby, nearly 11 months to move back in their home. They finally moved in last month.

“We prepared to take clothes for a few months. Assuming we’d be back in July. We thought that was reasonable,” Brocklesby, said. “We had to go through the winter without our boats, without our coats,” she said.

Hunter said she and other neighbors experienced months of trials and problems too.

“There’s been several contractors that’ve represented themselves as contractors, that were not licensed that caused a lot of setbacks,” Hunter said.

Some said delayed material also became an issue during recovery efforts.

“When it came to the siding, it took us three-month lead time when they ordered the materials,” Brocklesby said.

“The material cost has skyrocketed, I guess due to COVID, lack of materials. Materials have skyrocketed, causing delays,” Hunter said.

Moulder said hundreds have been helped with a tornado relief fund, and thousands of volunteers have helped with efforts in the community.

“Thousands of volunteers assisted with private property cleanup and the tornado relief fund helped individuals without insurance to clear downed and damaged trees from there property.  There are some trees and debris remaining but it is a very small percentage as it compares to the damage this community received,” Moulder said.

Pastor Matt Turner has been a part of an Oconee County long-term recovery team that works with county and Seneca leaders.

“Thanks be to God through this pass year, a lot has been done, but it’s going to continue to be an effort to do. Mainly because of some of the trees that didn’t necessarily fall all the way down,” Turner said.

“The majority of the trees that are down now sit on larger tracts of property.  Insurance companies paid very little in reimbursements for tree removal,” Moulder said. “The larger tracts of land are receiving quotes approaching $100,000 or above to clear.  Not many people have that kind of money in the bank account,” he said.

“I would argue that what seems to be a taking a little while to some people has actually been an aggressive recovery effort by this community with excellent effort,” Moulder also said.

Hunter is back in her home after her family became their own contractors. She hopes officials can help more struggling families.

“I’m hoping that maybe we can find some grants, some programs and stuff that will allow the trees to be cleaned up. Will allow those that are less fortunate to have not gotten as far as we have, that they will also be able to get to the point where we’re at,” Hunter said.

“I knew it was going to take a long time. I didn’t think some of the issues that we’re having would take as long as it’s took,” she added.

Although county representatives said it will take years for things to return to normal, some families said they’re glad some progress has be made thus far.

“Absolutely, we’re seeing it everyday,” Brocklesby said.

Moulder said he will meet with the Forestry Commission and the fire chief next week, to see if a controlled burn is an option to help property owners.

“We are meeting with the Forestry Commission and our Fire Chief next week to review a few of these large acre areas to see if a potential controlled burn is an option to assist the property owners.  Unfortunately any remaining needs are the property owners responsibility, but we are trying to find help any way we can,” Moulder said.

Tuesday night, Ann Hope United Methodist Church held a tornado celebration, where free food was giving to those in the community.

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