This post is the fourth in a series I’m writing about our tornado experience. You can read from the beginning with the first post here.
So I ended my last post in this series as we made it out of the neighborhood hours after the tornado and here we are seven (yes, 7) months later. A lot has happened in between. I’ll try to give you an abridged version.
The story continues:
We get to my sister’s house several hours after the tornado. We’ve left our home open to the elements and potential looters (yup – looting started almost immediately after the storm hit and continues to this day in the effected neighborhoods). We borrow clothes to sleep in and ‘try’ to settle into my sister’s guest room.
In the middle of the night another doozy of a storm complete with house-shaking lightning and thunder rolls through along with heavy rainfall. Needless to say, sleep wasn’t easy.
The morning after:
As a mother you want to always protect and provide for your kids. Let me tell you, waking up the morning after the tornado was a low point for me. We are in borrowed clothes, sleeping on borrowed beds. We’ve got the underwear we are wearing and not even a toothbrush between us. I’ve never gone through something so humbling.
We check the phones and media and gear up to head over to check out the house in the daylight. It has been raining non-stop since the storm and the rain continues. Had it not been for that rain, we would have been able to save so much, but the rain destroyed what was left in the downstairs and left several inches of water in my beloved Mini Cooper since the sunroof was broken by a piece of roof decking.
To get back into the neighborhood we had to show ID. Police volunteers from all over the metroplex area were helping control traffic and try to keep looting to a minimum. I recorded the videos below upon our first visit back. They are hard for me to watch – the emotions were raw and you’ll hear that in my voice. The first is the front of the house and the second is from the back.
We sifted through and tried to save what we could that day – just threw things in tubs and boxes. A day or two later, we had a few companies that specialize in cleanup come out to see what they could save. My husband worked with them and saved a lot of the electronics (TVs and Appliances), as well as a good portion of kitchen housewares. I found it incredibly difficult and couldn’t physically sift through the rubble. Seeing my things spread out all over, soaking wet and ruined was too much. It literally made my stomach ache every time we went over there.
Meanwhile, the local community had begun action. There were so many relief efforts it was hard to take them all in. We’ve always been able to provide for our kids and family, usually on a budget and sometimes on a shoestring, but having to walk into a middle school and pick up bags of toiletries and donated clothing and necessities was a first for us. And hard. So. Freaking. Hard.
But we had nothing. No toothbrushes. No socks. No tampons. No nothing. The boys are young enough that accepting donated items was not a big deal. For the teenager it was agony. We were given some gift cards and it is amazing how quickly you can drop hundreds of dollars buying necessities for a family of five. When you buy things a little here and a little there it doesn’t seem like a lot. When you have to buy for everyone all at once it is sticker shock!
We were blessed to have all of our immediate needs met since we were able to stay with family in the days after and quickly accessed resources. For people not looped into social media, with no family nearby, it was a much more difficult few days.
Nevertheless, we contacted out insurance company and got the ball rolling on a claim. We had just purchased the house 9 months before, so our policy was new and very valid. It was also a good policy. Over the course of this journey we have dealt with 5 different adjusters: one for the structure, one for the cars, one for the emergency living expenses, one for the temporary housing, and one for the contents.
Both of our cars were damaged. My Mini was totaled, so we were immediately without one vehicle. My husband’s car was about a year old and sustained just over 16K in damage – it spent 31 days in the shop. So while homeless and dealing with the house, we were also trying to figure out transportation. Due to the sheer number of houses affected, we knew temp housing would go quickly and immediately contacted an apartment complex to get the ball rolling on a place to live. And add in all the other stuff: calling utilities to either cancel or put a hold on accounts, arrange mail holds at the post office until we have a forwarding address, meeting with the various adjusters and potential contractors, filling out endless piles of paperwork. Meanwhile, we were both lucky to have jobs where they said ‘take the time you need’ – so we didn’t have to stress about going in to work in the immediate days after. The to-do list was neverending and frankly very overwhelming. So many decisions to be made. And little eyes watching us as we navigated through the aftermath.
In a previous post I mentioned losing my mom during all this. Three weeks after the tornado hit she passed away. Those weeks are a blur for me as I look back on them. I’m sure I was a bit of a walking zombie for the entire month of January. It was blow after blow. And try to explain to an 8 year old why everything that was ‘his’ is gone, including the presents from Santa, and now Grandma is gone too. It’s impossible for me to wrap my head around so much loss, so I can’t begin to image what has been going on in his little mind.
Over the next few months we’ve worked with our contractors to rebuild. The insurance company totaled the structure – which means they gave us the max payout. We could have chosen to take that money, pay off our mortgage and sell the property, but we didn’t. When we bought the house we fell in love with it. It was the ‘forever house’ where the kids would grow up. We couldn’t walk away from it and the neighborhood after this. It would have felt like we were abandoning it. So maybe that means we ‘chose’ to live in chaos for months, but it wasn’t a choice for us. We wanted our home back. That’s it.
Getting the max payout for the structure was good for us. It meant we don’t have to haggle with the insurance company about every little thing that gets repaired. They cut a check for the structure, end of story. It just means that we had to demo and try to rebuild for that amount. We’ve had some struggles with our construction company (mainly delays) and are on our third ‘Super’. We probably could have been done by now if there were so many changes in personnel. There are so many rebuilds going on in the area, that workers and subcontract labor is scarce and companies are luring bodies away left and right which throws off schedules.
So here we are at the seven month mark.
Living in a two bedroom apartment with 5 people.
An apartment with rented furniture.
Still making lists of contents we lost cause we think of something almost everyday.
Visiting the house on an almost daily basis.
Frustrated over the lack of progress some days.
Missing the pool and private backyard in this 100 degree Texas weather.
Extending the lease because of delays.
Stressing about whether we’ll have to extend the lease again.
Tired and sometimes rage-ey because I just wanna go home.
And please, please, please never, ever tell a tornado or flood or other disaster survivor: “But at least you’re getting a new house when it’s all said and done!”
I guarantee you not one survivor would go through this again just to get a shiny new house. I would take my old house back in an instant if we could turn back time. I could care less about the shiny and new. I just want my house. I want my space. I want the kids to feel like they have a home again. I want to not tense up when I hear about pending storms. I want to go through a day and not have to make decisions about plumbing or electrical or send my kids to school on a special ‘tornado’ bus. I want everything to be like it was.
I know it won’t be. We are forever changed.