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'Glad to be home again'

By Julia Sellers

 

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Immediately after the April 27 tornado, debris stood two stories high in parts of Tuscaloosa. ©Habitat for Humanity/Ezra Millstein

   
 

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Eddie Crispin, Nichole Cammon and their children, William and Nikendrea, are all smiles as they show off their new home in Tuscaloosa. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker

   
 

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William plays in his new front yard while Nikendrea and her mom read the mail. ©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker

   
 

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William and Nikendrea.
©Habitat for Humanity/Steffan Hacker

   

Eddie Crispin and Nichole Cammon’s slice of the American dream — with its perfect front lawn and early spring blooms — stands in stark contrast to what lies beyond.

Beyond the porch — where their children play and where Eddie builds his new flower boxes — is a daily reminder that rebuilding Tuscaloosa is far from over.

The two blocks that separate their new home from the main highway is a wasteland of vacant lots, ragged trees and remnants of homes lost in the April 27, 2011, tornado.

A return to “normalcy”
Eddie and Nichole came to Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa after months of desperately trying to piece together some sort of normalcy after the storm.

Before the tornado hit, the family lived in an affordable rental house in Alberta City, a low-income neighborhood near the University of Alabama.

“The first two or three days after the storms we camped out in the IHOP parking lot until we could get a [motel] room. We still had to go two cities over,” Nichole said. “The kids and I shared a bed, and Daddy took a chair. It was the best sleep ever.”

They returned home to a cracked foundation and no electricity, as mangled power lines lay beneath debris piled two stories high in some areas. They cooked meals on a grill and coaxed their children to sleep before dark to try to ease their nightmares.

“They saw that tornado, and I understood why they didn’t want the night to come,” Nichole said. “The night of the tornado, they started praying, saying, ‘God is great, God is good.’ I didn’t even know they knew how to pray, but someone had taught them that. Just thinking about that still makes me cry.”

Despite continuing issues with the foundation and leaking gas lines, Nichole and Eddie were bound to their lease. Their landlord gave them no reprieve on the rent or assistance with repairs.

“We didn’t have a choice but to stay there,” she said.

An escape plan
During a drive with a friend a few weeks into storm recovery, she passed a group of Habitat homes that were being repaired.

“I told [my friend], ‘Wow, I want one of these. That’s something,’ ” Nichole said. “I didn’t really know anything about Habitat for Humanity, but I went in, got the application and started researching.”

As the family began the selection process and then their sweat equity hours, they told others their story. However, Eddie said, the good news wasn’t always met with heartfelt congratulations.

“People thought we had nowhere to go and thought we were lying when we said we were having a house built,” he said with a laugh. “No one believed that we could go from where we were to something like this in less than a year. It’s a great feeling to work in my own yard and know we’re past the destruction of last year.”

A secure future
The family’s routine is the first sign of the neighborhood’s re-emergence and the community’s commitment to rebuild something better than it had before the storm.

From their front porch the family has a view of a new proposed park and beyond that, the reconstruction of commercial buildings. In the next few months, they’ll have a half-dozen new Habitat neighbors.

The construction also brings some security. Each new Habitat home in the recovery area has a storm room in the center, with steel walls that families can hide behind should another storm come.

“You know, we’re all nervous because it’s been said that a storm will follow the same path,” Nichole said. “But this time, I have somewhere more definite to get. We have all of our important papers in that [storm] room, and we have people close by who care about us. I’m just glad to be home again.”

Return to the series home page:
‘You can see hope here’: One year after the 2011 tornadoes

 

Related:
‘I just feel really blessed’ (slideshow)

Hackleburg, Alabama, and communities that surround it could have become ghost towns. But a year after the tornado, 600 of the 700 families have returned.

Tornadoes and flooding in the central U.S.
Our local Habitat affiliates are leading the cleanup and rebuilding efforts. Learn more about this disaster recovery and how you can help.