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One year after losing everything, families have rebuilt their lives -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

One year after losing everything, families have rebuilt their lives

Dustin and Emily Hall moved into their new home on Dec. 15, 2012, and hosted Christmas celebrations for their families. ©Habitat for Humanity of Indiana/
Katie VanSickle

Getting back to normal begins with having a place to call home
By Soyia Ellison


Emily Hall logged hundreds of hours helping work on her own home and nine others built for survivors of a March 2012 tornado that destroyed much of Henryville, Indiana. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Soyia Ellison


Volunteers work on Dustin and Emily Hall’s home during a weeklong blitz build in October. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Kristin Wright


On March 2, 2012, with the local news warning that bad weather was on the way, Emily Hall sought shelter in the Henryville, Indiana, fire station where her husband, Dustin, is a volunteer.

From inside, she watched as a tornado tore through their town of 2,000.

“I saw a roof get taken off,” she said, “and I saw a tree get ripped out and sucked into the tornado.”

Not far away, Michelle Friedly and her 17-year-old daughter, Jessica, huddled in a bathtub in their apartment. They had been on the porch taking pictures of the storm when they saw the funnel cloud barreling toward them. They dived into the tub as the walls began to shake.

“We just started screaming, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you,’ over and over and over,” Michelle said. “I thought, ‘A two-by-four is going to knock me out any second.’ ”

When the storm passed, the mother and daughter looked up and saw sky. They looked straight ahead and saw parking lot.

“From where we were sitting in the bathtub forward, there was nothing — no walls, no roof, no refrigerator, no cabinet, no nothing,” Michelle said. “It was gone.”

‘It couldn’t have happened in a better town’

The tornado had laid waste to Henryville, wiping out more than 100 homes and destroying the junior-senior high school.

Emily and Dustin Hall were able to return to their apartment, though it had suffered hail and water damage. Michelle and Jessica Friedly moved into Michelle’s sister’s house.

The Friedlys, who escaped with minor cuts and bruises, had nothing. Even the clothes they salvaged were unusable, because no amount of washing could get rid of the insulation stuck to them.

“I literally had to start over,” said Michelle, who is 42. “I was wondering where I was going to get my next pair of socks to wear to work.”

Even in a disaster, though, there are bright spots.

“It couldn’t have happened in a better town,” Michelle said, “because this community is awesome. People I didn’t even know were coming up and giving me gift cards and money and all kinds of stuff.”

Responding quickly to overwhelming need

Habitat for Humanity lent a hand as well.

In the past decade, Habitat has learned the value of responding early to disasters and laying the groundwork for the sort of long-term recovery that leads to permanent housing.

True recovery can’t begin until people have safe, secure places to live — places from which they can resume their livelihoods and regain some sense of normalcy.

Leading Habitat’s efforts in Henryville were Gina Leckron, state director of Habitat for Humanity of Indiana, and Bill and France Moriarty, Disaster Response volunteers who travel the country in an RV working on Habitat projects.

They came up with a plan to build 10 homes for survivors of the tornado — and to get them into those homes before Christmas.

“There’s no way we could restore everything,” Leckron said. “But we wanted to restore some of what they lost.”

The Moriartys set up camp just outside town. France helped run the Henryville Community Church kitchen, which for months fed scores of volunteers three meals a day. Bill began planning a weeklong blitz build in October, when the vast majority of the construction would take place. The future homeowners, including Emily Hall and Michelle Friedly, helped him get the construction sites ready.

For Emily and for Dustin, the new home symbolized hope amid tragedy. Two months after the tornado, the Halls lost their daughter, 8-month-old Allie Marie. Allie was born 20 weeks early, with extensive brain, heart and lung problems that ultimately proved too much for her little body.

“She was amazing,” Emily said. “She brought me and my husband closer together and closer to God.”

They found out they were getting a home just a month after Allie died.

“For us, this has been more than just a hand up,” Hall said. “It’s been a new start.”

Next: ‘It’s not Christmas without a tree’
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