Families find shelter from storm at Redstone
May 11, 2011
- More than 30 families have come to Redstone Arsenal, where long-term temporary housing is being provided.
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala., May 11, 2011 -- The tornadoes that brought destruction to Alabama April 27, 2011, have left several Redstone Arsenal families with damaged or destroyed homes.
Some of those families continue to live in homes with minor damage, while others have had to move on. Those with severely damaged or destroyed homes have found shelter with friends and family.
More than 30 families have come to Redstone Arsenal, Ala., where long-term temporary housing is being provided through the efforts of Garrison Housing and Redstone Communities. These families have also been assisted by Army Community Service and local groups, such as the Arsenal's military wives who have collected donations from the commissary and its vendors for the displaced families.
Here, a few of those families tell their stories of the tornado that changed their lives forever. Each family has expressed gratitude for making it through the storm and appreciation for the giving spirit that has surrounded them since the evening of April 27. They speak of church groups and various volunteers, and local efforts to provide them food, shelter and comfort during their time of need.
"You don't realize how much help there is until you need it," said Erica Green. "The physical presence of people helping you makes a big difference and really impacts your life."
"We've got our family. We are alive. The material things can be replaced. We have each other and that's what matters," said Almeida Green.
"We are truly blessed. We have our lives and we are blessed," said Joseph Kalsic.
PLANNING TO SURVIVE THE DISASTER
For Hal Green, all the signs were there - the weather forecasters on television were showing massive storms headed for the area, the weather sirens were blaring, some 20 weather emergency calls had come through on his cell phone, and outside a nearby window he could see the shifting winds and horizontal rains.
And, yet, Green couldn't get himself to go into the family's safe place - an inside bathroom. He was stuck, watching out the window as the destructive clouds raced toward his house.
It was his daughter Erica Green who yanked him into the downstairs bathroom.
"As we slammed the door, we started to hear things hitting the house," Hal said. "About five seconds later, the lights went out. And, five to eight seconds later, all we heard was a boom and then there was silence."
Slowly they left their safe place on the evening of April 27, 2011, to find their home nearly blown away by what they would later learn was an EF-5 tornado.
Hal, who works for the Army Materiel Command and and his wife, Almeida Green, who works for the Army Aviation Maintenance Division for AMCOM, and their family - daughters Erica and Stacey, son Anthony and granddaughter Sydney -- are living in temporary housing at Redstone, spending their days working back to normal.
They hope to move into a rental property in Madison until they decide how to pick up what remains of their lives.
Their time in the bathroom the afternoon of April 27 was the second time of the day they had gone for shelter. Earlier that morning, they went to shelter because of a storm that passed through. At that time, the family made a plan, assigning places in the bathroom and deciding what kinds of things they should grab on their way to shelter if it happened again.
With everyone at work, Erica was the only one at home during the day.
"During the (noon) storm, I saw rain that was horizontal and trees bending down to the ground," she said. "When I went to school to pick up Anthony, I saw tree limbs down everywhere. All day, the storm radio was going off and the TV station was calling our phone with weather alerts."
"I was a little freaked out by the time everyone got home," Erica explained. "Then, the things that happened at 12 (p.m.), happened again at 4 (p.m.)."
Hal and Almeida arrived at their Anderson Hills home in the Harvest Ala., area at about 3:30 p.m.
"We had been on post and we, of course, had been through the sirens at work so we had missed lunch. We picked up some chicken on the way home," Hal said. "When we got home, we started watching the storms outside and the storm forecasters on the TV."
I saw that the concentrated storms, instead of moving northeast as they normally do, were moving east, meaning Harvest would get hit a number of times."
As Hal watched the weather on TV, other family members were scattered throughout the house, with Anthony, Erica and Sydney upstairs. Hal started yelling for everyone to get in their assigned places in the downstairs bathroom. Only Stacey, who was at work, was not at home at the time.
"When it started getting closer, we saw outside that there was a dead calm," Hal said. "It was so still that it was just unbelievable. It was just still.
"About five minutes before it hit, I said to Erica, 'Come look at this.' The winds were low and I could see from the clouds that they were moving left to right over our house but also right to left about a quarter of a mile away. We said to each other 'This is going to be bad.' We started for the bathroom. But I looked out the window again and I saw two garbage cans, like Soldiers, take off down the driveway and trees bent way over and the rain horizontal."
That's when Erica grabbed him from the bathroom.
"I was saying 'Daddy, you need to come in. This storm is moving way too fast. I was here earlier and this looks a lot worse,'" Erica recalled. "As I grabbed him, I heard things slamming through the house. I slammed the door behind us and we all just huddled. In less than five seconds, it was quiet, it was dark and I could smell the earth."
When it was over, Hal looked out the door and, at first, thought things were okay. But as he walked out of the bathroom, the destruction became more and more evident. The roof had fallen in, all of the third floor and most of the second floor was gone, the front door was laying in the foyer with the deadbolt still locked and all the windows were blown out. There was debris everywhere.
"When I looked up the back stairs, all I saw was gray sky. Everything was open to the elements," Hal said. "Our box of chicken was still sitting on the counter. The dishes were still in the cupboards. But, the chairs and everything was blown everywhere."
The family walked out with only the clothes they were wearing at the time.
"The neighbors were coming out. But then we were told another cell was coming through in 15 minutes and we needed to take cover because there was going to be a lot of rain and wind," Hal said.
The Greens went to a neighbor's home down the street.
"We were so in shock that the second one seemed like nothing," Almeida said.
When the weather cleared, they went to the nearby grocery store and stocked up on candles, batteries and other items, and returned to their neighbor's house for the night. It took Stacey three hours, rather than the normal 15 minutes, to return to her neighborhood and find her family.
The next day, in daylight, they discovered that more than half their home was gone.
The Greens are now staying on Redstone and searching for a rental property in Madison, Ala.
"I don't know if we're going back to Anderson Hills," Almeida said, mentioning the 1995 tornado that also leveled parts of Anderson Hills. "I've heard lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice. I've learned that's not true about tornadoes. But, I do love the neighborhood and the neighbors at Anderson Hills."
"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen wherever you are," she said. "It's just too early for us to make a decision."
"We're not sure if our best option is to rebuild on the same spot," Hal added.
RIDING OUT THE TORNADO IN A GARAGE
Veronica and Joe Winston left Redstone Arsenal in separate cars on April 27. Work kept Joe just a little longer than his wife, who left at about 4 p.m.
"We had been back and forth all day to the first floor of Building 4488 (Garrison headquarters) because of the weather," said Joe who is the Garrison's director of Human Resources. "So, I stayed behind to try to get some work done. Veronica said we needed to get out of here and she left ahead of me going home."
Veronica, who works for the System Sustainment Management Directorate, Integrated Material Management Center at Redstone, was especially concerned about getting home because the couple's son - 16-year-old Joseph - had been at home all day in Anderson Hills because of illness. The Winston family home is next door to the Green family home.
"Every time I called him to tell him to watch the weather, he was sleeping and didn't want to be bothered," Veronica said.
Joe left about 10 minutes after his wife and got caught in a storm that threatened both himself and his family.
"As I approached Anderson Hills, the wind, the rain, the lightning were so intense. I could hardly see. I followed the tail lights of the truck in front of me," Joe said.
"At Jeff Road, I saw the Piggly Wiggly and the Shop-N-Save just go. As I approached the subdivision, trees were down and I drove over tree limbs to get to my house," Joe recalled. "I finally got home. The garage was all caved in."
"The front of the house was caved in. The front of Veronica's car was all beat up and the windows were busted out," he said. "I called for Veronica and Joseph. But nobody answered. I was panicky."
He forced the kitchen door open, hollering for his family. He walked through the damage to the basement door and opened it.
"They were there. Veronica had bruises on the right side of her body where she had been hit with debris and rock. I had to try to compose myself before I could go on," Joe said.
Veronica had arrived home just seconds before a tornado blew through their home. She fought against the winds to get out of her car and rush into the garage toward the kitchen door.
"I never made it into the house," she said. "I made it through the storm in the garage. I tried to get in, but the winds pushed me back. Everything started coming into the garage and the garage door caved in and went away. I was just praying 'Lord, save my baby.'"
Inside, Joseph heard the tornado and got into a closet on the first floor in the nick of time. After the storm passed, he and his mom found each other and went to the basement.
"We had a difficult time getting through the house. I was covered in mud and I couldn't stop coughing because of all the stuff that had gotten in my mouth," said Veronica, who had nicks, cuts and bruises.
She also stepped on a nail, and later discovered a brick had flown into her purse and a two-by-four was lodged in the wall just above where she had stood during the storm.
"God put her in the right corner of that garage," Joe said. "On the south side of the house, it looks like someone took a knife and sliced it off."
"Yet, a carton of eggs was not touched on the kitchen counter," Veronica said.
The fire department soon came to the house and told the family they had to leave right away because another storm was coming. Veronica, who was trying to change her muddy clothes, left the house in a robe, riding in the back of a police car.
But once out of the neighborhood, Joe convinced the police to allow him to quickly return for his wife's purse and cell phone. They then stayed with family members nearby.
The Winstons are now living on Redstone Arsenal, but they hope to find a house to rent in Harvest so that their son is close to school. They don't know if they will rebuild in Anderson Hills.
"We'll just pray about it and when we pray we'll know what we're going to do," Veronica said.
"GOD, PLEASE SAVE US"
When the tornado came through their neighborhood in Harvest, retired Master Sgt. Edsel Hogan was afraid he had left his wife too vulnerable to the storm.
The couple, who had been watching the storm's approach on their back deck, had hurried back into their home when they realized a tornado was bearing down on them. Hogan made sure his wife was secure in a tiny closet under their stairwell before he ran for safety in a guest bedroom closet.
But, during the tornado, he could hear his wife screaming, and his mind went to the worst. Rochelle Hogan was indeed in trouble.
"The tornado ripped the roof off. It blew the French doors open that we had just run through and it sucked my closet door open," she said. "I saw the stainless steel grill pushing into the house and into the recliner. I saw metal roofing coming at me, and I managed to close the door again."
"I could hear her scream," Edsel said. "I was sitting there praying 'God, please save us. This is really bad.' I was praying up a storm."
Hogan, who works for the Integrated Materiel Management Center as an employee matrixed to the Program Executive Office for Aviation, had been home all day. Neck and spine surgery on April 14 had him on sick leave, so he was there as the noon storm came through.
"It got really bad outside. We've been here since 2002, so we've been through this kind of stuff a hundred times," Edsel said. "But this time the hail got so heavy and thick, and the winds were so strong. There were dark clouds right over our neighbor's house and the clouds came down between our neighbor's houses."
Rochelle, a Monrovia Middle School bus driver, was kept at school most of the day because trees were down on the roads from the day's earlier storms. Soon after arriving with her busload of students at school, it was decided to close school but to not allow buses to drive children home.
Rochelle helped the teachers as they waited for children to be picked up by the parents, and then she returned home at about 4 p.m.
"I was trying to relax. But then we heard there was a tornado on the ground on Wall Triana," Edsel said. "We both went to the back door to see. We went out on the back deck. All the sirens were blasting. There was a white cloud of hail and rain, and it sounded like a train - clunk, clunk; clunk, clunk. It was three football fields from us. But as soon as we got back inside and closed the French doors, it hit."
Rochelle rushed to the stairwell closet and Edsel went as quickly as he could to the guest room closet, falling down on the way.
"I could feel the pressure. The house felt like it was moving. The roof was ripping off. I felt the house lift," Edsel said. "The fourth time I felt that lift I prayed 'God you said anything we ask for in your name you would do and this house will not last much longer.' About two minutes later, I heard Rochelle scream out 'Are you okay''"
Furniture, glass, insulation and debris were tossed everywhere. The Hogan's front porch was gone, and two to three inches of water were on the floor. Next door, the neighbor's house was demolished to the ground. Everywhere there was destruction and silence.
"Our neighbor had some older trees along the house and it laid them down like matchsticks," Rochelle said.
The couple's two younger children, Jeremy, 23, and Ashley, 20, were not home at the time of the tornado, and they are very thankful for that.
"If our son had been there he would have been in his bedroom upstairs and he would have been literally sucked through the roof. If our four grandkids had been here, they would have been sucked away, too," Edsel said.
"When this tornado touched down, it was on top of us before we could react. There was no way we could have run from it."
The home of Rochelle's sister, who lives four miles away, was also destroyed.
"It took us two and a half hours to get to her because of all the downed trees. And the last mile we had to walk in to get her," Rochelle said.
Unfortunately, Rochelle's sister had not renewed her house insurance because her husband's unemployment has made it difficult for them to pay their bills. They will have to rely on FEMA for a low interest loan. The Hogan's insurance company has already visited their home to make an analysis of the repairs needed.
"They will have to remove what's left of the upstairs and rebuild. The bottom portion will need to be gutted and rebuilt," Hogan said.
The Hogan family lived with relatives in Athens for a few days before they called Garrison Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Marvin Luckie for assistance.
"The in-laws didn't have any electricity and there were a lot of people there. Rochelle said 'Call your Army family.' We did and Chaplain Luckie, (retired) Col. (John) Olshefski and (retired Chief Warrant Officer 5) Harry Hobbs went into action. We were the first family brought on to Redstone from the tornado."
Hogan's 24 years in the Army took him to Operation Desert Storm/Shield, and to Italy during the earthquake there in 1983-84. But nothing compares to the tornado he and his wife lived through.
"This has been really traumatic," he said. "Our God blessed us because He let us get through this. I never want to go through that again. I'd almost rather go to war than go through another tornado. When a tornado is up on you like that you can't run."
The Sunday after the tornado - May 1, 2011 - was the Hogan's wedding anniversary. They started the day like every Sunday, in church at Bicentennial Chapel. The only difference in the day is that they went home to their furnished rented home on the Arsenal, thankful for a place to live while their house is rebuilt.
WAITING STORM OUT AT WALMART
Retired Sgt. Maj. Joseph Kalsic and his family came to North Alabama in the summer of 2010 because of Redstone Arsenal and the employment opportunities associated with the military.
They didn't plan to move into an area that would be destroyed by a tornado.
"My roof caved in. My entire ceiling came down on the kitchen," Kalsic said of his home in Harvest that was heavily damaged by an April 27 tornado.
Kalsic and his family, including wife Sarah, 18-year-old daughter Gabby, and 18-year-old niece Ji, weren't home when the tornado struck.
"I was listening to the radio and I decided I needed to get them away from here," Kalsic said. "I've been through a tornado before and I didn't want them to have to live through that. When the girls got home from school, I took them out to eat."
While they were out, Kalsic was able to get enough information about the storm system to know it was passing over the family's home.
"The girls wanted to go home and I said 'No, I've got to go to Walmart (on University Drive) for some things.' I just didn't want them to experience a tornado," he said. "I stayed in the car while they were shopping. But then I saw these black ugly clouds and it got darker than dark. So, I went inside Walmart. They put all of us in the service area and we stayed there for 45 minutes."
Once the storm passed, it took the family about 1A,A1/2 hours to get home, a drive that normally takes 20 minutes. Many of the roads were blocked by fallen trees, but Kalsic's volunteer work as a basketball, volleyball and soccer referee made him familiar enough with back roads to allow him to eventually get his family home.
Despite the destruction, the family slept at home that night. The next morning, Kalsic, who served as a chaplain's aide in the Army, woke his family up "put them in formation and we went to work. I've been preparing my girls since they were little for something like this."
He kept them busy picking up shingles in the yard, which he used to patch the roof that was still left on his house.
Kalsic, who works for defense contractor Strategic Defense Solutions, is now busy getting his family resettled with a Madison family that made their two-bedroom suite available to a military-connected family through Garrison Housing. He is also getting ready for a civilian deployment to Afghanistan, which was originally planned for April 28 but has been moved to today.
His family will also be leaving the area in June, when they will travel to visit family in Korea.
"All we needed was a place to stay for a couple months," Kalsic said. "Hopefully, when we all get back our house will be repaired and we can go back to normal. We are so very blessed."