On April 10 when an F3 tornado tore through the northern portion of the City of Merrill and the Town of Merrill destroying homes and businesses, many people were affected. Over the course of the next six months, the area has slowly rebuilt with help from an army of volunteers who helped the stricken clean up.
One family that lost almost everything they owned in the storm – both their home and their business – were Jeff and Gwen Block, owners of Block Auto at N3160 County Road K. On the six month anniversary of the April 10 storm, Jeff Block took a few minutes from getting another car ready to take its place on his lot. Reopened for a month now, Block still considers his wife and himself lucky.
“Well, we’re alive,” he said.
Beyond that, the Blocks crawled from the rubble of their basement that evening to a scene of utter destruction on their five acres of land.
“I lost my house, I lost my three-car garage, my two sheds and I lost the shop. The shop was completely blown away,” Jeff said. “We had a 20-foot travel trailer that ended up down there somewhere totaled. I had a couple four-wheelers we never have found, they’re just gone.
“Basically we had to start over from scratch.”
In his personal garage he had a 1973 Corvette that received $10,000 worth of damage and his 1979 Corvette had about $8,000.
Jeff had been working in the shop on that Sunday on his 1979 Corvette that he had completely taken apart and restored over the winter.
“I was just putting it back together when my wife called me to dinner at about 5:30. I walked into the house, and we looked out the window and we could see the two tornados,” Block said. “We had just got downstairs with our dogs when the Rottweiler got off his collar and went back up. I took two steps up and I heard this train. I’m never, ever, ever going to forget that sound as long as I live.”
The couple and their other dog got under a blanket and rode out the carnage.
“We were just caked in insulation and junk. We walked out of there, the other dog was okay, and I looked over at my garage and it was gone. And then my wife goes ‘Oh, my God, Jeff the shop is gone,'” he said.
They couldn’t get to the second floor right away because the walls collapsed into each other.
“For an older house, it sure saved our lives,” he said. “It hung in there, but what a mess.”
The couple spent the night at their daughter-in-law’s house and their clothing was soaked and filthy.
“The next day we had people bringing us clothes and stuff,” he said. “You can’t say enough about this town. The economy might be bad here, but I’ll tell you. When something is going on people are just beside themselves wanting to help.”
Block’s brother Jay had a furnished house he was just about to rent out in town that they could move into the next day, which proved to be a Godsend.
All 12 cars on the lot were heavily damaged and eventually totaled.
“Every one of them had damage,” Block said. “Helen and Doug Branch had storage and they let me use the building to put all my stuff in there.”
After 27 years in the auto business, Block said the storm made him reexamine his life. In the end, he decided to rebuild both the shop and his home.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” he said.
It helped that the insurance companies covering his home and business were so responsive.
“Church Mutual (home insurance) was absolutely fantastic, they were just great. I can’t say enough about them. And Janet Kleinschmidt at Clabough and Associates Insurance (business), she was just fantastic. She called so many times just to see how we were doing, it was just amazing,” he said.
Because of the change in regulations, the Blocks were not allowed to rebuild their house on its former site, having to site it further from the road on his five acre lot. He also had to refill the former foundation.
“Mike Nisson of Nisson Trucking was just great. He bent over backwards to help us,” Block said.
It took two or three weeks just trying to get everything cleaned up and the debris hauled away.
The Block’s ordered their new home from Stratford Homes in Medford, and Block said that John Mueller with that company really helped cut the waiting time for their new home.
“You don’t order a house in April,” Block said.
The car sales shop was rebuilt by Kevin Holz and David Breamer of HB Construction.
“They dropped everything to help get us back in business,” Block said.
By the time the permit process ran its course and construction could begin, it wasn’t until the beginning of September before the business was ready to reopen. Once the kit arrived for his house, it only took about a month and a half to build it. It too is finished now.
“Randy and Remo Nolan were in there working on Saturdays and Sundays getting everything finished,” Block said.
To add insult to injury, Block had a car he was just about to deliver to a customer parked at his brother’s house on Main Street that was totaled when a storm a couple months ago dropped a branch from a neighbor’s yard onto it.
“I’d walk down the street and people would go the other way because I had such bad luck,” Block laughed.
Now that the house is finally finished, Block said the couple can now concentrate on moving forward.
“We’ve actually been selling some cars,” he said. “And we haven’t really done a lot of advertising because we’ve been trying to get everything in the house and get it squared away.”
And that Corvette he was working on that Sunday six months ago? It has been completely restored and Block drives it around town.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost those two cars,” he said.