The 16 Oaklawn homes previously marked “unsafe to occupy” by Sedgwick County are being rebuilt.
The EF-3 tornado that struck the Oaklawn neighborhood on April 14 caused no severe injuries but affected 429 homes in the Wichita area, according to a damage assessment by the Midway Kansas Chapter of the American Red Cross in late April.
Jennifer Tafoya’s house on East Idlewild was one of them. She began rebuilding immediately only to find out she needed a permit to build.
Then her home was marked “unsafe to occupy” because her roof was severely damaged after a tree fell on it. Still, she stayed in her home because her insurance company wouldn’t pay for a hotel stay, she said.
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“The roof looked wavy because of the beams,” Tafoya said. “The county orange-tagged me.”
Orange tags allowed limited access to the buildings, while red tags prohibited entry.
Homeowners had 30 days to get their homes inspected or face demolition by the county.
“The houses were put on an abatement list,” said Bud Lett, interim director of Sedgwick County’s Department of Code Enforcement. “(The homeowners) were required to get engineers’ evaluations of the structural damage and give the required list of repairs for each house.”
After the inspection, homeowners like Tafoya could file a permit to rebuild. This is standard procedure after storms, fires, tornadoes and other disasters, Lett said.
During the rebuilding process, the homes will also be inspected multiple times to make sure they are up to code, Lett said.
“Anything that is going to be concealed when finished is looked at – plumbing, mechanical, electrical,” Lett said. “We want to make sure everything that’s being concealed has been installed to code.”
Rick Waylan had 10 homes that were marked unsafe to occupy. His company, Oakview at the Park, owns and rents approximately 300 homes in the Oaklawn area, and he is currently rebuilding his damaged properties.
“Like a new build, (the county) has to make sure it meets safety standards,” Waylan said.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton visits the Oaklawn community once or twice a week. He’s glad to see homeowners rebuilding.
“It indicates that things are going to slowly return to the way things were,” Skelton said. “It’s much better than how it was after the tornado.”
Andree Sisco, the Oakland Improvement District board treasurer, doesn’t know when the area will be “back to normal,” but she hopes most of the homes will be completed within a year’s time.
“It’s going to take those with more properties longer to finish,” Sisco said.
“For us to have some of these homes rebuilt, it shows people care,” Sisco said. “It means a lot.”
At Tafoya’s house, the roof and siding are repaired, but she still has to fix her shed, awning and fencing. She says the work is “going slowly.”
“There’s so many people out here fixing (things), you have to wait,” she said.
According to a Sedgwick County damage assessment released earlier this year, the tornado caused an estimated $146.3 million in damage to homes and businesses.The tornado also caused extensive damage to the Pinaire Mobile Home Park, and it heavily damaged Spirit AeroSystems.