The Aftermath: What It’s Really Like After Your Home Is Hit by a Tornado
by Karen Morris
Seven years ago almost to the day during a Good Friday church service, my cell phone rang. I promptly turned the ringer off – It was the middle of the service. A few moments later, It rang again. I turned the phone’s ringer off again, and this time I sat on it. Yeah, I know. You see, my phone made a loud noise when it was turned completely off, so I didn’t want to do that. Fortunately, the service was just about over. So as soon as it was finished, I pulled my phone out and looked to see who had called. It was my mother. Yeah, not good turning the phone off on your mom! So I called her back only to hear her panicked voice, “Karen, are you okay? Is everyone unhurt?”
Now, I had just been sitting in a calm church service, my mom seems to think we’ve all died, or been maimed or that something horrible had happened to us. It took me a moment to wrap my mind around her panic.
“Yeah, we’re fine, Mom.” And I tried to sound nonchalant, “Why?” Ya know you don’t want to sound accusatory toward your mom.
I think she was totally taken aback because she didn’t realize we weren’t at home. “Your house just got hit by a tornado!” It took me about five seconds for those words to sink in. After the eternity wrapped in five seconds, the words finally started flowing. “Our house was hit by WHAT? We’re not home, we at church. What’s going on? Are YOU GUYS okay?” That should have been my first thought – they lived only three blocks behind us at the time. Fortunately, they were okay, but my dad had walked over to our house, and our house WASN’T okay.
We were helping at a church an hour and a half away from our house. It was already around 9 pm, so we started the trek back. While the church we were at didn’t get touched by a tornado, there had been a thunderstorm. The normally one-and-a-half hour trip took us almost three hours.
During that time, my dad called me to let me know that they weren’t letting anyone into the neighborhood – even if they lived there – because they were trying to make sure there was no looting. So on the way back, we had to find a place to stay. We couldn’t stay with my parents because they lived within the cordoned off area. I wish I had known about car kits and get home bags at the time – both of which we have now.
Some local (though not in the same neighborhood) friends offered to take us in for the night. As we made our way to their house, we drove by the affected area, and it was BAD, not just “it’ll take a day of cleaning up the debris bad,” but “the church 50 feet from our house had the roof torn off of it” bad.
Trees were down, and some of them were inserted into neighboring houses. Windows were broken; roofs were damaged. We could see some things by the lights of the police cars which blocked off the area, but we couldn’t see details of our house.
Then we went to our home.
The next morning, we headed home. Of course, we were all stinky because we didn’t have clothes to change into, and the ‘bed head’ was just startling. The police let us in at this point. “Bad” didn’t do it justice.
Our roof was damaged, a tree that was just six to eight feet from our house had been knocked over. It hadn’t hit our house, but the force of a fifty-foot tree being uprooted had lifted and crashed the front corner of our house causing foundation damage. We had portions of our plaster lathe walls disintegrate and fall inside the house. We had a floating staircase, and we weren’t even sure it was still structurally sound. Soffits and fascia had been torn off with obvious force.
We didn’t have water or heat or gas, but we did have FOOD. That one thing was huge. More on that later.
After calling our insurance agent and setting up a time to have an adjuster to come out and give us an estimate of what they would pay to fix our house, we were given information on which hotel the insurance company was going to put us up in. We had to bring in a plumber to fix our water and gas. I had to deal with insurance adjusters, with contractors, and with repairmen – all while being six months pregnant and having four children 8 and under!
What I learned about my food supply
We tested the stairs in a very scientific way (my husband walked up them) to make sure they would hold us. He even bounced on them a bit. They held, so we gathered clothes, laptops, DVDs, cat, and FOOD!
Despite the damage to our house, our food had remained unscathed. I was able to gather three weeks worth of food in just minutes. The hotel in which we were being houses served breakfast daily – big plus – and dinner a couple of nights a week – bigger plus, but we had to provide for the rest.
At that time we had about three months worth of food in our house. It was organized by category. This was helpful, but I hadn’t realized that having pineapple and pasta and black beans, but no planned meals with the food I had amassed was helpful in one sense, but not in another. I may have had a room heaping full of food, but not knowing that the foods I had worked together was definitely something I learned from the situation. I was able to pull things from the shelves that would mostly work together. Yes, I did have to get creative, but no one died from my concoctions.
Debris clean up took a long time. We had to have trees cut into pieces and removed. We had to pick up the pieces of our siding, soffits, garage door, our privacy fence around our backyard, and even parts of our from porch and back deck.
The most troubling piece of information we got was that the tree which had been uprooted about six feet from our foundation had damaged our foundation – and guess what – insurance decided that it was ‘pre-existing,’ so they weren’t going to fix it! Tell that to a six-month pregnant lady and watch her explode. Fortunately for us, our contracting company was amazing. They let us do some of our work ourselves and then they worked with another company to pier our house.
During those three weeks that our house was being stabilized. Yea, you don’t get your house fixed up front – they don’t tell you that in most prepper schools, huh? After three weeks, we moved back into our stabilized, but not repaired, house. Life still didn’t go back to normal. We still had portions of our walls missing – did I mention that I had two eight-year-olds, four and a five-year-old at the time? You couldn’t see completely through the walls, but you could see the plaster lathe and in some places, through that, you could see the siding. Air easily passed through the broken portions of walls.
While you try to get back to life as normal, it’s really never the same normal as it was before the traumatic event. During the summer, we did have our siding, soffits, facia, and roof replaced. Progress was being made on the outside. That was awesome as it was a step in the right direction. The outside does need to be fixed to protect the inside.
So, August came and went. I had a baby, but the inside of our house was still not fixed. Part of the issue is when you have a large scale destructive event, everyone is vying for the same resources, so it takes a long time for things to get done. We had to staple plastic up around the missing portions of the walls in a meager attempt to keep the cold out as we moved from summer into fall. Then winter came. We celebrated Christmas in a frigid house – did I mention I had a newborn?
Finally, in January, the company with which we were working was able to get the inside of our house worked on. This time we were displaced for six weeks. Again, having food, baby supplies, cat supplies, and toiletries that I could just take with us was HUGE. Since we were gone longer this time and since we weren’t running all over taking care of issues with the house, it actually caused different problems. Since we homeschool, I now had to deal with doing school in a three-room suite of about 300 sqft. in the hotel. I had four active children who were needing to get energy out, an infant I was nursing constantly, and only a small amount of space to contain it all.
Helping children through a traumatic event
In some ways dealing with housing issues was the easiest part of the entire situation. When you have four children who (while fortunately not home during the tornado) have to go through seeing their home terribly damaged and not being able to live in their own house, it means you have to stop and help them deal with things. There are fears that have to be faced, nightmares that leave a child needing to be comforted, questions that need to be answered, cuddles that need to be given. The emotional issues that come with a trauma are just as real as the physical issues.
If you ever go through something traumatic (especially with children), don’t just gloss over the emotional issues associated with it. Sometimes, for our children, simple things helped them immensely. I had brought microwave popcorn from our house to the hotel. Even that one simple food helped lift spirits. It might sound silly, but it was SO true! Comfort foods were so important during this time. As was time together. We watched familiar movies. This helped their spirits. We spent time cuddling together. All of these things were just as important as getting our house back to the way it was before.
Movies were so important. So were games and other distractions! Don’t forget that in your prepping. It’s so easy to get caught up in just the survival aspect of things that you forget having children not going crazy so that they don’t drive you crazier IS part of the survival aspect. Having a laptop that has a DVD player or having a battery-powered DVD player is so important.
Having games that your kids ENJOY is also very important. Take time playing games with your children. Not only does it help strengthen the bond between you, but you also learn what they like, what games you can play together. Unless you are playing games together as a family, you don’t know that your older children don’t want to play games that don’t require your younger children to read fluently. You might not know how frustrating it is for the younger children when the older kids want to play games in which they can’t participate. Yep, we learned both of those the hard way.
What I learned
Here are some of my take-away lessons from living through the tornado.
- Plan your meals. Oh, how I wish I had done this before the tornado! Life would have been even simpler. Now, I make up a menu for my pantry. I keep a running spreadsheet on my computer. This spreadsheet has all my meals broken down by ingredients, how much of each ingredient I need to make that meal once and then I multiply that by 12, so I have three months worth of short-term food storage readily accessible. At any given time, I can tell you how much of each ingredient I have in my house and how much more of any given ingredient that I still need to purchase.
- Toiletries should be among your preparedness purchases. Sometimes people get into the TEOTWAWKI mindset, “No one will have deodorant when the world ends, so why should I stock up on it?” Yeah, well, TEOTWAWKI doesn’t happen each year, but small emergencies probably do. You’ll want that deodorant if you have to go to work even if your house didn’t have power and you didn’t have extra personal care supplies in your stash.
- If you have pets, their supplies should be among your preparedness purchases. At the time, we had a cat. I had a lot of cat food, litter, and cat treats. They all went with us, and I didn’t have to worry about buying any. If your pet has meds, make sure you stock up on those too.
- Make sure that you plan for snacks and fun foods. You don’t have to go major on these, but they are SO helpful when, as a mama, you see your kids struggling. Hot chocolate – even if it is just a small packet of a mix – is the difference between tears and smiles sometimes. Even if you have no kids, these will lift YOUR spirits immensely as well.
- Fun diversions should be a part of your preps. We have DVDs, a battery-powered DVD player, rechargeable batteries, and two solar powered battery chargers in our preps. We also have a bunch of games in our arsenal. I keep playing cards on hand and even a book on Hoyle Card Games, so we can learn new ones if we want to. We have a small ‘library’ of books and more books than I can count on Kindles that each of my family members and I own. We have crayons, colored pencils, coloring books, paper, paint, and other craft items.
- Listen to what your kids are going through during everything. I feel like the Ferguson tornado was a dry run for what we would be looking at when we went through the Ferguson riots. I learned a lot of lessons there that helped us help our children cope better during the riots.
Have you ever been through an event like this?
Having your home partially (or completely) destroyed is rife with emergencies, both physical and mental. If you’ve been through an event like this, tell us about it. What happened? What did you learn? Did it change how you prepare?
Share your story in the comments.
About the Author
Karen Morris has survived some life-changing events, like the Ferguson riots, an armed standoff with a knife-wielding man during my family’s time at a local homeschool chess club, and an F-4 tornado, Each of these events taught her a new level of self-sufficiency and preparedness. From there, her journey to self-sufficiency started with food storage and grew beyond her wildest imaginings. Find out more about Karen Morris: Her books: A Year Without the Grocery Store and A Year Without the Grocery Store Companion Workbook Her website: AYearWithouttheGroceryStore.com