As work on the Rosedale Court home of Appie Jones continued, the group received encouragement from a series of intriguing visitors – most importantly, Appie Jones herself.
The 82-year-old tornado survivor walked about her future home – including the window-less “safe room” installed in the center of every Habitat home during this recovery – and talked with the crew (an event I missed).
I was there, however, for another Habitat home owner – Dana Dowling, the recipient of the first post-tornado home here in Tuscaloosa. She shared with a few students her harrowing story – that of surviving the riding out of a storm in one of the worst places to be, a trailer park.
If I was inclined to project an evil consciousness on a climatological entity, the tornado would be a prime candidate – it knocked out the emergency center on its way into towns, taking out the alarm system in the process (as well as all of the trucks needed to rebuild). Combine that with the power going out in the Dowlings’ neighborhood more than an hour before, and they were left with no idea the storm had turned their way. When they did figure it out, the funnel cloud blocked their way to the nearest shelter.
Before hiding in a utility room, they looked outside and saw the funnel cloud. Her daughter asked if she was seeing a car in the cloud, and Dana looked. “There was a minivan 250 feet up in the air,” she said.
Most of their trailer was gone when the cloud passed, as well as most of the trailer park. Strangely, Dana noted, no one was killed in the trailer park – since they knew to evacuate – but five were killed in traditional houses nearby.
The silver lining for the Dowlings was that they became recipients of the Habitat home on which they were volunteering, and moved in months ago, even as friends are still on hold, waiting for insurance, or mortgage companies, or FEMA, or some combination of the three. “It’ll take five years to rebuild,” she said.
She was more optimistic about the major event to come on this particular cloudy afternoon – the Alabama-LSU game. She received a call Monday from a Sporting News reporter, following up on the tornado angle. “They asked who I thought was going to win,” she said. “Is that even a question?”
Pointing out that she erred by wearing a purple shirt, a few purple-clad volunteers nearby quickly came to her rescue. “She’s wearing Kenyon colors,” offered one of the crew, newly arrived for their own service stint.
Dowling was soon joined by Rev. Charlie Durham, pastor of Tuscaloosa’s First Presbyterian Church – which has sponsored the building of this house. The church is also where my father attends. “I should’ve known you were a Land,” he joked, “since you have a camera hanging around your neck.”
Durham was with the inspiring Karolina Lingyte, who volunteers for Habitat despite being bound to a wheelchair. That’s nothing particularly challenging for Lingyte, leading scorer on Alabama’s championship women’s wheelchair basketball team; she’d scored 30 in her last game before Christmas break.
Meanwhile, the sign for this Habitat house mentions one other major sponsor – Nick’s Kids, football coach Nick Saban’s charity, which has set the goal of building one new home for each of Alabama’s 13 championships.
“Let’s hope,” my father told me today, “they make it 14.”