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Tornado takes dream home three days before family moves in

By Bill Sanders

This slab is all that’s left of the house that Olga Hernandez and her four children were scheduled to move into on Saturday, May 18, 2013. Photo by Ezra Millstein/Habitat for Humanity

Steve Davidson of Habitat for Humanity Hood County talks about the damage done to Olga’s house and nearly 60 other Habitat homes in Granbury, Texas. 

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GRANBURY, Texas (May 21, 2013) — She was supposed to be Rancho Brazos’ newest Habitat for Humanity homeowner.

Olga Hernandez, a mother of four, had spent the past month packing up her family’s belongings in preparation for moving out of their crowded rental home and into their own Habitat for Humanity house on Saturday, May 18.

But instead of moving into their dream home, the family was unpacking their boxes and preparing to stay in their rental house a while longer.

Hernandez’ new house was gone — destroyed by a monster tornado that ripped through the neighborhood May 15.

Habitat for Humanity of Hood County volunteers had put the finishing touches on the home only a few hours before the tornado undid every bit of Hernandez’ house, leaving nothing but a concrete slab. Fifty-six other Habitat homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

Hernandez is a mother of three girls — ages 14, 11 and 5 — and a 4-year-old boy. 

“We have been going by the new house every evening after work,” Hernandez said, “just to see the progress and because we were so excited. But on Wednesday, for whatever reason, my oldest daughter said she wanted to just go home and eat. So we didn’t go.

“I’m pretty sure we would have been badly hurt or completely dead if we had gone. I’ve told everyone that we are fortunate.”

Carol Davidson, the executive director of Habitat of Hood County, said bad weather had slowed the construction. What normally takes two months ended up taking five. Had things gone according to plan, they might already have been living in the house when the storm struck.

Instead, just hours before the tornado, and about 72 hours before the home dedication ceremony — a Habitat tradition — volunteers were putting final aesthetic touches on the exterior. Flowers were just right. A fence had been finished and mulch placed around the bushes.

“After the tornado hit, I thought we’d have to lay the grass again and start over with all the landscaping,” Davidson said. “But I never thought there wouldn’t be a house.”

Hernandez works about 70 hours a week running a shop in town. Along with her sweat-equity hours, she’s volunteered countless times as a Spanish translator for Habitat. Rancho Brazos is a diverse community, with many Hispanic residents.

When she heard about the destruction, she didn’t know what to think.

“As soon as I heard my house was a complete loss, I was really hurt. It is not something easy to explain. We had a hard time that night. Deep down, I know I had faith that someone would tell me something was still there.”

That never happened.

Still, Hernandez said she plans to go out to Rancho Brazos on her one day off each week and help her would-be neighbors in any way she can.

“I want to do whatever I can, even more so now,” she said. “It’ll be our future home. One day.”

Davidson said that the next home Habitat of Hood County builds will be with Hernandez, whether that’s at Rancho Brazos or elsewhere.

“There is some anxiety right now” about the location, Davidson said. “She has seen the remains on her lot, and that has taken an emotional toll. We’ll do whatever she wants.”