Un-Natural Disasters +5: New Hartford - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Un-Natural Disasters +5: New Hartford

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NEW HARTFORD (KWWL) -

New houses, growing trees, a gazebo garden and a veterans memorial are all signs New Hartford is bouncing back five years after the small town was hit by both a tornado and a flood.

"I think we've made great strides. It's almost like the community needed something to bring everybody back together," said Terry Thompson of New Hartford.

On May 25, 2008, the north side of town known as the Deer Ridge area was devastated by the tornado. Sadly, 71-year-old Leasa Bleeker and 48-year-old Norman Beuthine lost their lives. Homes were lost and Oak Hill Cemetery sustained major damage. Trees were ripped out of the ground and headstones knocked over.

Today, many of the homes are rebuilt and the cemetery is restored. Community members formed the Oak Hill Cemetery Foundation to put in new trees, repair headstones and add this gate and sign. The cemetery was re-dedicated in September 2011.

"We are very much working together to rebuild what we can of this community," said Bill Close of New Hartford.

Two weeks after the tornado, New Hartford was also hit by flood waters. Homes were destroyed and lots were not deemed safe for rebuilding property. Last year, FEMA deeded more than 20 lots to the city and the FEMA Lot Restoration Project began.

The town collected more than $70,000 in donations and restored seven of those lots.

"This lot is our ideal. To build something long lasting, high quality, so that people would realize we're serious and our donors would know," said Terry Thompson.

Besides cash donations, people donated thousands of hours in sweat equity. A veterans memorial was designed and built by Bill Close, a retired art teacher who moved to New Hartford 10 years ago.

"When the opportunity came to put my skills to work, I was happy and eager to volunteer," said Close.

Bill Close also designed a "flight of the phoenix" sculpture in what's going to be a meditation garden. The phoenix symbolizes the rebirth of New Hartford and emphasizes the town's resiliency.

"We're a little town. We're not glitz and glamour. We're just full of heart with pride," said Carol Chapman.

Another newly restored lot is now an orchard. New Hartford won an online contest last year to fill the lot with 30 fruit trees. This year, the town hopes to raise $28,000 to finish two more lots.

"We have the people ready to go. It's amazing," said Chapman.

Plans include completing the meditation garden and connecting it to a memory lane made of rocks. The rocks will be used to recognize everyone who's donated to the FEMA Lot Restoration Project.

The other plan for 2013 is to add a new welcome sign at "the curve" entrance to town. It will feature New Hartford's new motto: City of Gardens.

In the five years since the disasters, the small town has gotten more than a new motto, it's developed a new sense of pride.

Donations for the FEMA Lot Restoration Project can be made at the New Hartford City Hall. Walking tours will also be set up taking people through each of the restored FEMA lots. City leaders hope people visit New Hartford during Beaver Creek Days the first weekend of June to see all the positive changes in the community.

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