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In a disaster zone, building up starts by tearing down

Kay and Gary Jones comfort each other as they say goodbye to their home of 28 years. Photo by Ezra Millstein/Habitat for Humanity International
Kay Jones hangs her head as she watches Habitat staffers tear down the remnants of her home. Photo by Ezra Millstein/Habitat for Humanity International

By Soyia Ellison

MOORE, Oklahoma (May 30, 2013) — Habitat for Humanity is in the business of building houses, but on Thursday in Moore, Oklahoma, it tore one down.

 Homeowners Kay and Gary Jones shed tears as they watched a bulldozer and excavator tear into what was left of their home of 28 years and deposit the remnants on the curb.

 “We raised two babies in that house,” Kay said. “I know it’s just sheetrock and nails, but it still hurts.”

 In the midst of their overwhelming sadness, the Joneses also felt gratitude.  Habitat’s demolition will help save them money and put them a little closer to starting over.

 “Everybody has been so helpful,” she said.

 Kay rested her head on her husband’s shoulder as he held up his phone to record the destruction of his home. A few minutes later, the pair walked through the piles of debris. Kay emerged clutching a peach-colored rose.

 “I never liked this rosebush,” she said, laughing through her tears, “and it survived.”

 Both of the Joneses were at work when the EF5 tornado ripped through their neighborhood on May 20. (She’s a legal assistant; he works for a company that repairs valves.) By the time they were able to get back home, days after the storm, most of what could have been salvaged had been ruined by rain.

 “We got some pictures,” Gary said. “They’re not in the best of shape. They’ve been wet and re-wet. But they’re memories.”

 The couple is staying in a hotel but will move into a rental home in June. And after that? It’s too soon to think about a long-term plan. They are still in shock, grieving for the life they built.

 “It was just a little house,” Kay said. “Our kids are awesome, and I think it was because they were raised in a little house.

 “They couldn’t hide from us,” she said with a laugh.

 Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity’s on-the-spot offer to help tear down the Joneses’ house was a surprise, but a welcome one.

 “It was hard just cutting off my utilities,” Kay said. “I don’t think I could’ve made the call to schedule the demolition.”

 When Gary called her to tell her about Habitat’s offer, she raced to the scene to watch the house come down.

 “I wasn’t here the first time it got taken away from me, so I wanted to be here for the second time,” she said, her eyes welling again. But then she pulled herself together and gave her husband a determined look.

 “We’ll make another ‘forever,’ ” she told him.