Friday, December 30, 2011

Pulaski County tornado victims deal with struggles after the storm

Eight months after two twisters hit Draper and Pulaski, folks are still pulling together to rebuild what the wind destroyed.

Lane Arnold stands on the front porch of his new home in Draper. The 28-year-old's previous home, like hundreds in Draper and Pulaski, was destroyed by a tornado in April.

Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times

Lane Arnold stands on the front porch of his new home in Draper. The 28-year-old's previous home, like hundreds in Draper and Pulaski, was destroyed by a tornado in April. "It's a lot better," he says of the new house. "I'm digging the view. But it's funny: We didn't used to have a view."

No one inside the house was hurt that night, but the home was a complete loss.

Photo courtesy of the Arnold family

No one inside the house was hurt that night, but the home was a complete loss.

Two trees, flung by the tornado, destroyed a corner of the house, which was battered by debris.

Photo courtesy of the Arnold family

Two trees, flung by the tornado, destroyed a corner of the house, which was battered by debris.

Arnold's house, before the tornado hit. The night of the storm, he and his family huddled in a doorway.

Photo courtesy the Arnold family

Arnold's house, before the tornado hit. The night of the storm, he and his family huddled in a doorway.

Lane Arnold's new home in Draper, built next to where his old house stood, was dedicated this month. Total damage from the tornadoes in April was estimated at $5.25million.

Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times

Lane Arnold's new home in Draper, built next to where his old house stood, was dedicated this month. Total damage from the tornadoes in April was estimated at $5.25million.

Timothy Dalrymple stands in the dirt-floored cellar where he and his wife fled during the tornado. The couple's house, built in 1890, lost 23 windows, and the property was littered with debris.

Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times

Timothy Dalrymple stands in the dirt-floored cellar where he and his wife fled during the tornado. The couple's house, built in 1890, lost 23 windows, and the property was littered with debris.

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DRAPER — Lane Arnold stood on the porch of his family's new home and recalled the night the tornado hit.

He'd planned to go out on the evening of April 8, but his mother's worry about the gathering storm — and seeing the rain blowing sideways when he stepped out for a smoke — persuaded him to wait awhile.

Arnold, 28, said he was looking out from the kitchen when the yard and the wind-whipped trees were hidden by an ominous gray cloud.

For a moment, all he saw was mist. "Then windows started breaking," Arnold said.

He and his mother and sister huddled in a bedroom doorway as debris thudded against the walls. Two large trees became tornado-flung battering rams that crushed a corner of the house.

When the wind subsided, the Arnolds were unhurt. But their home — like hundreds in Draper and the nearby town of Pulaski — was a complete loss.

This month, Pulaski County supervisors helped dedicate a new home for the Arnolds. The trim, single-story structure was built next to where the old house stood on Holbert Avenue.

It was paid for with money from the family's insurance company, a state grant and donations collected by the county tornado recovery fund. The Mennonite Disaster Service, one of many church-based groups that have worked in Pulaski County since April, provided volunteer labor for construction.

Arnold called the new house a joy to live in — easier to heat and clean and with a view down across neighbors' homes and pastures.

"It's a lot better," he said. "I'm digging the view.

"But it's funny: We didn't used to have a view," he said.

According to the National Weather Service in Blacks-burg, the two tornadoes that hit Draper and Pulaski on April 8 were the only ones that have ever been confirmed in Pulaski County. The winds reshaped a long stretch of countryside as well as hillside neighborhoods above -Pulaski's downtown, felling trees, tangling fences and damaging 270 homes.

Total damage from the tornadoes was estimated at $5.25 million, said Assistant County Administrator Robert Hiss, who has coordinated relief efforts.

No one was killed by the Pulaski County tornadoes, unlike in Washington County, where four people died in a tornado that hit about three weeks after the Pulaski storm.

Ready to rebuild

For many Pulaski County residents, rebuilding has consumed the eight months since the tornadoes.

Dave Dobyns, a Dublin resident who came out of retirement to lend construction management skills to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance-led efforts, guessed this week that it will take at least two more years to repair and replace what the winds destroyed.

In Pulaski, house after house remains boarded up, many with doors still painted with the "X" that emergency crews left after determining no one was trapped inside.

Hiss and Dobyns said rebuilding efforts are expected to speed up as additional money becomes available from donations or grants and warmer weather brings more volunteers.

"We'll see more of this in the spring, when the churches are geared up to do mission trips," Dobyns predicted.

Hiss said a community meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 17 at the New Life Church of the Nazarene will give residents a chance to hear more about how $1.4 million in Community Development Block Grant money is being spent on tornado repairs. Information on how to apply for assistance will be available at the meeting. Applications also are available at the County Administration Building, Hiss said.

So far, the county has helped to repair or rebuild 73 homes with a recovery fund that had reached about $817,000 early this month, Hiss said. Donations to the fund included about $100,000 from individuals, $187,000 from businesses, $180,000 from churches, $159,000 from homeowners' contributions of insurance, and $192,000 from Virginia Department of Emergency Management grants.

The block grant money is expected to pay for substantial repairs to an additional 25 houses, Hiss said.

"Considering it's our first tornado, we believe the county, town and citizens have responded as well as can be expected," Hiss said in an email this week.

Neighbors come together

Hiss and Dobyns said that if there's been a benefit to the tornadoes, it is in how residents have come together to rebuild.

In an email, Hiss said the repairs so far "would not be possible if not for the incredible outpouring of volunteer assistance."

Dobyns praised Lowe's, Home Depot and smaller building materials suppliers for marking down prices for tornado repairs.

Timothy Dalrymple paused last week from work on his family's sprawling Victorian farmhouse in Draper to describe the storm and the labor that followed.

He'd been in a horse barn and looked up to see alarmingly dark clouds. Back in the house, he and his wife turned on the television and heard an announcer say that a tornado was on the ground — in Draper.

Grabbing a flashlight and a radio, the couple raced to the basement, only to find the wind blowing so strongly that Dalrymple, 43, could not close the outside door.

They retreated to a deeper cellar, where they could fasten a door and shelter behind the house's furnace. That cellar had no opening to the outside, but tornado winds nonetheless penetrated along the foundation enough to blast the couple with a mini-sandstorm in the dirt-floored room, Dalrymple said.

When the storm passed — and when he was able to push open the cellar door, which had jammed as the house shifted — he and his wife found a changed landscape. Rows of trees, fences and barns were obliterated. Planks stood upright, embedded feet into the ground like giant spears. A tractor was buried beneath a fallen outbuilding. A gas station sign had blown about a quarter-mile and landed in their yard.

The Dalrymples' house, built in 1890, lost 23 windows and the widow's walk across the roof. Its siding was riddled with holes. The entire upstairs would have to be gutted and replaced. Every bit of the family's 8-acre property was covered in debris, Dalrymple said.

Many of their neighbors' properties were in similar states.

The Dalrymples' teenage son was safely away with a 4-H group when the tornado struck, and their horses and dogs escaped major injuries.

The Dalrymples' insurance company paid for much of the repair work. But many tasks — such as just picking up the immense amount of garbage strewn by the storm — were not covered.

That was where the volunteers, who began arriving almost immediately, swung into action.

A friend removed the -horses to pastures that were not studded with nails. Another friend brought a tractor and left it on loan for the summer. Hundreds came and picked up the bits and pieces that littered the fields, carrying them to a Dumpster provided by the county.

Dalrymple's emotion was plain as he described the rebuilding. "It's very humbling to receive so much help," he said.

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