A month after tornado, Oregon town rebuilding

It's noon. Juanita Nichol strolls into the Pizza Peddler and orders the Nichol pizza, a house specialty dreamed up by her family — pepperoni, easy on the sauce.

It's the same tradition Nichol has carried on for years, and little has changed since the 78-year-old grandmother became the public face of the tornado that struck this small community last month.

The Dec. 14 twister, one of the strongest ever to strike Oregon, ripped the roof off Nichol's plumbing supply shop just minutes after she closed up to have her car fixed.

Nichol's shop in the center of town is still a fenced-in pile of rubble, as are a handful of the homes destroyed that day. The radio tower atop the fire station is still bent and mangled.

But elsewhere, there are obvious signs of progress like shiny new roofs and upright fences rising from the rubble of a storm that damaged 50 homes and four businesses.

"It still gives me goose pimples when I think how close I was," Nichol said. "And it really makes me look at my spiritual life in more depth."

God must have a plan for her remaining years, she said, and "he clearly has something left for me to accomplish."

Since her near-miss, Nichol has received phone calls and e-mails from well-wishers throughout the Northwest and as far away as Pakistan.

She's running her business from home for now, but hopes to rebuild in the same place at the corner of Sixth and Main streets by the end of the year, she said.

Not far away, on Cleveland Street, Lisa Wall's home repair is nearly done. Her house was deemed unlivable after windows were smashed, a wall caved in and a truss or two in the roof snapped.

On Monday, a contractor was installing flooring. Crews have already finished rebuilding the roof and the back porch, even better now with a covering to protect from the rain.

"We just want back in here," Wall said as she showed off the progress that's been made on her home. Her family is living across town in a rental, and she expects to be moving back home by the end of the month.

Despite the damage to her home Wall, 40, was fortunate. The houses on either side of her fared far worse. One was ripped off its foundation and was deemed a total loss. All that remains is a puddle shaped like the house that once sat there.

On Wall's other side, the home has been completely gutted down to the struts and foundation, save for the kitchen tile. Wall's family owns that home, and her mother-in-law lived there.

"The City of Aumsville has worked hard to return a sense of normalcy to the city," City Administrator Maryann Hills said in a statement last week.

The cost of rebuilding Aumsville is probably going to turn out to be higher than the $1,129,368 officials initially estimated because homeowners continue finding new damage, Hills said. Some insurance companies have also calculated depreciated values of homes and roofs rather than the actual cost of replacing them, Hills said.

About $30,000 in donations has been committed to families that were uninsured or in need of help with their insurance deductibles.

The storm turned out to be a good thing for 66-year-old Steve Moore, he joked. His 60-year-old home already has a new roof and will soon have a new fence and siding out of the disaster, he said.

"We had some blessing," Moore said. "The whole town has some blessings. It could've leveled us."