PINER, Ky. - Angela and Adam Praiswater wanted a Leap Day baby. Instead they got a miracle.
Just six minutes after tornadoes ripped through rural Piner, Ky. last March 2, the Praiswaters’ son was born at a hospital 15 miles north. Little Aedan was past his due date but just in time to make sure his parents and grandma, Debbie McIntosh, were at that hospital and out of their homes in Piner – safely out of harm’s way.
“That’s the only thing that makes me cry,” Debbie McIntosh said, sitting in the camper where she and her husband, Benny, have lived since the storm. Benny McIntosh was driving a school bus the afternoon of the storm but was unharmed. “Thinking of what could have happened.”
What could have happened is the scariest part for just about everyone who survived last year’s deadly storms that killed 11 people, left hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed and countless lives in shambles. For many, what did happen was so awful that they’re still struggling to put their lives back together and rebuild their communities.
Here are some of their stories.
Holton, Ind., recovery continues
Signs of the storm remain clearly visible in tiny Holton, Ind., about 60 miles west of Cincinnati. The seven homes destroyed by the tornado have yet to be rebuilt, said Town Marshal Bob Curl. Five houses were “wiped flat” by the storm, he said, and another two were too severely damaged to save. Most of the new homes are under roof, but none are ready for families to move back in, he said.
“A tornado comes through, and it’s through in 45 seconds,” Curl said. “But it’s been a year, and people still aren’t where they can live normally.”
Curl and his wife, Rachael, have been in the thick of helping the town recover in the tornado’s aftermath. He’s a police department of one in the small community, and she’s assistant chief of the all-volunteer Holton Fire Department.
“She’s the one who set the siren off last year before the tornado came,” Curl said of his wife. “It was about 25 minutes before the tornado came through.”
Curl figures that saved lives in Holton, although the community suffered two fatalities on the day of the storm and another nearly 11 months later when a 71-year-old man died from injuries sustained when the twister ripped through.
“It kind of hits a little bit harder when it has to do with everything that surrounds your life,” he said of the storm. “It’s seeing people you know having such a rough time, whether it’s loss of life or loss of property. That’s probably the hardest.”
Moscow counted on help from neighbors
In the Ohio River village of Moscow, Ohio, Village Administrator Sandra Ashba was overwhelmed by the devastation she saw immediately after last year’s tornado, too.
“When I walked into the village, walking to the street, climbing across trees, my first thought was, ‘We’ll be lucky if we get these streets cleaned up by July,’” she said.
But the streets were cleared in two weeks, Ashba said, thanks in large part to the work of Rob Alfieri, deputy of operations in the Clermont County Engineer’s Office, and his road crews.
Alfieri and a few of his guys were among the first on the scene in Moscow last March. His crews immediately started clearing the trees blocking US Highway 52 so emergency vehicles could pass.
“I had five roads that were blocked that night with trees, and we had them all reopened – enough so you could get a life squad down them – by 1 in the morning,” Alfieri said. “I’ve got an army of people down here who know what they’re doing.”
That “army” spent the next two weeks working to clean up Moscow, cutting through debris with chainsaws for 12 hours at a stretch.
Alfieri wasn’t sure if any other communities would offer help since there was no federal FEMA funding to reimburse them. But road department crews from around the region came to lend a hand, he said.
“It was basically a huge team effort, and we were able to be part of that team,” he said.
Now Ashba sees a village still marked by the storm’s destruction. At least half a dozen buildings remain open to the elements, and piles of debris sit on lots around the village.
“When you look around Moscow, it’s so barren,” she said. “We probably lost 500 trees. But we also managed to plant 177 in the midst of all this.”
Recovery would be even slower, she said, if not for the crews like Alfieri’s and the hundreds of volunteers who poured into the village to help last year.
Ashba and her sister went door to door in Moscow six days after the storm hit, making a list of what families needed so they could mobilize those volunteers.
“Moscow is where they’re at because of the goodness of the people,” Ashba said. “It’s been a wild ride. I hope we never have to go through that again.”
Piner struggles to get back to normal
Casey Hall and his mom, Cindy, were in the basement of their ranch house in Piner when the tornado hit. When the storm passed, all that was left upstairs was the bathroom and a closet, said Casey, a 9-year-old