Scars remain

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Helen Becker sat in her Hillpoint living room earlier this week, flipping through pictures taken two years ago.

“If I would have been in bed, I would have been dead,” said Becker, pointing to a snapshot of her bedroom, with a roof beam driven through the mattress on her side of the bed.

Becker is one of several residents and business owners still getting their lives back together two years after a tornado ripped through the city on April 28, 2008. Some who are still rebuilding have had problems with their insurance claims. Still others had to deal with personal setbacks in the interim, such as medical problems or deaths in the family.

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Even so, all the victims count their blessings in the rebuilding process.

“I’m thankful I wasn’t in the house when it hit,” said Becker, who also acknowledged neighbors, family and city workers as having a hand in her rebuilding process.

The destructive tornado wound its way through Suffolk just after 4 p.m., cutting through the Murphy’s Mill, Sadler Heights, Elephant’s Fork, Burnett’s Mill, Hillpoint and Driver areas. Hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses were obliterated as the tornado ripped through buildings, spreading their contents across miles of the city. Astonishingly, however, no human lives were lost in the storm.

Though Becker and her husband, Tom, moved back into their rebuilt home on Oct. 21, 2008, she still is working on getting back to normal. This week, she ordered a patio furniture set to replace the one that disappeared during the storm — the last thing left to do to get her home back to the way it was before.

“Once I get this done, that tornado part will be done for me,” Becker said.

The Beckers were in Atlantic City, N.J., when the tornado struck. Hearing about the storm, Becker began calling her neighbors to see if her home was OK.

She called one neighbors’ home, and the line was busy. At the second home, she got the voice mail. But the third call brought the news she was dreading.

“He said, ‘No, it’s bad, but it’s not as bad as some,’” Becker said.

The Beckers’ home was mostly still on site, unlike those of some of their neighbors. However, walls had been sucked apart, half of the house had collapsed, appliances had been thrown outside and a vehicle had been destroyed. The contractor they hired to rebuild their home demolished what was left and started from scratch.

Becker still expresses disbelief at some of the things that survived. The TV stand in the living room was destroyed, but she found a crystal goblet in the yard without a scratch.

“How do you explain how you can demolish something built supposedly strong, and these fine, delicate things are out there OK?” Becker said.

For Becker, her blessings in the rebuilding process were numerous — family, emergency workers, a good insurance company and the opportunity to have her home rebuilt more sturdily than it was.

Business owner Craig Parker echoes her sentiments. He owned the Driver Variety Store, which was destroyed by the tornado and has yet to be rebuilt. Parker now operates the business out of a rented space in another Driver store.

“There’s always a bright side,” said Parker, who is waiting on insurance to be able to rebuild. “I could have lost a real good friend in that building. He was in there when the roof collapsed.”

Though Parker’s dog died of injuries it suffered from the tornado, he is thankful that no human lives were lost in the storm, unlike what happened in other states just last week.

“Luckily, I didn’t lose any loved ones,” he said. “I feel for those people in Mississippi and Arkansas, because I know what they’re going through.”

Business owner Phyllis Murphy, who owns Harmony House Antiques in Driver, also had to rebuild her store. Some issues remain from the rebuilding, such as leaks that still must be repaired.

“There have been some things I’ve been able to do this go-round that I couldn’t do before,” Murphy said. She was able to rebuild the store with more room to host foster cats for the Suffolk Humane Society.

“It gives us an opportunity to bring more out of Animal Control, so that’s a blessing,” Murphy said. “I’m certainly grateful.”

In the aftermath of the storm, many thought the quaint Driver community was wiped off the map. In reality, however, several stores were undamaged, and all but a couple are now back up and running.

Murphy also expressed thanks that no lives were lost in the tornado.

“We’re all grateful to be here,” she said. “Sometimes good things come out of bad things.”