Though slow, steady progress -- such as the recent installation of her new front door -- gives her hope some days, there are other days when the reality of her building on top of the ruins of her old family home, destroyed in the EF-3 tornado that barreled through
"I've said that ever since this has happened, I've been on nothing but an emotional roller coaster," Wicker said. "You know, one day something good happens and I'm like 'OK, I can get through this.' And then the next day, it's like 'I'm just done, I just can't do it no more.'"
Wicker's home, which she shared with her fiance, two of her four children and their two dogs, was located on one of the hardest-hit blocks of Hewittville. Though it was still standing after the storm cleared, "it was like somebody had picked up my home and dropped it," she said.
A tree also landed through the roof, and the home's walls would wobble when pressed upon. It was clear from the get-go that the structure was uninhabitable and would need to come down. For the past year, the family has been living with Wicker's mom in a two-bedroom apartment across town. They are eager to once again have their own space and not be "on top of each other," Wicker said.
"You go to pick up a dish or something and it's somebody else's," Wicker said. "So you put it where they want it. You just want your own life, your own home, your own privacy. It's a hard process. It still gets to you every day."
All that damage was done as the tornado trampled through town in less than five minutes. But the recovery has not been so quick as one year later, Wicker and many of her neighbors are still picking up the pieces as they rebuild their homes and their lives.
Twenty-eight tornadoes dropped across central
Other towns sustained damage. But the level of destruction seen in
On the Enhanced Fujita scale that measures tornadoes' intensity, an EF-0 is the weakest; the strongest would be an EF-5. The scale describes an EF-3, which would have winds of 136 to 165 mph, as producing "severe" damage.
Hewittville and the southwestern portion of
As a year has passed, the rubble has mostly been cleared away and there are signs of renewal as homes and businesses receive repairs.
Yet for every success story, there are indicators of how far the city has left to go. Blue tarps still cover homes that need new roofs, window panes remain boarded up and yards remain barren as trees -- some of them more than 100 years old -- were uprooted and gone with the wind.
And all that goes without mentioning the psychological toll the storm had and still has for those who lived through it.
"I'm an ex-
Tilton and Radzimanowksy were outside, taking advantage of the 63-degree day, when the tornado sirens blared for the first time. After the sirens went off an unprecedented second time, it was less than a minute until the tornado arrived. The couple and Radzimanowsky's daughter barely made it into the bathroom before it hit.
Within a few minutes, the damage done to their home was massive, with the whole front half taken out and the couple's two vehicles destroyed.
They count their blessings, yet expressed frustration with the rebuilding process. After several false starts with contractors and fights with their insurance company, they are finally making some progress on repairs. Contractors were hammering new siding on their exterior walls as they spoke.
"We were lucky," Radzimanowksy said. "We thank God everyday that nobody was hurt and we said God was watching over every one of us. And we still say that."
"And we survived it," she continued. "The tornado wasn't the worst part. The recovery from it, as you see, is the worst part. ... It's been hell."
Resources still needed
The city sustained somewhere north of
Lawmakers also set aside a
Barry said he expects those funds to be released in the next few weeks. The city has also applied for grants through the
Though Barry said more state help is possible down the pike, the biggest need right now is for additional monetary donations and volunteers, said
A not-for-profit organization started in 2010, Missions has acted as "the checkbook, so-to-speak, of the recovery," redistributing donations to uninsured and underinsured homeowners in need of help with tornado-related expenses.
The group has raised about
"We're trying to make sure that we have enough to hopefully cover everybody because there is a tremendous amount of work left to do," Legg said. "But yeah, we were only able to work off of donations. And when that money has basically been pretty much depleted, but I must say, not very easily."
Some of the requests are relatively minor, amounting to no more than
Wicker, whose home lacked a foundation and thus was turned down for insurance multiple times, is building her new home mostly with funds and volunteers from Missions.
Construction started in September and, if all goes well, it should be completed in a few months, a date Wicker eagerly awaits.
"One of the guys with (Missions for
Yet for all the progress that has been made, there are certain aspects of the recovery that money cannot buy. And certain voids that will be left unfilled.
For Wicker, it is knowing that all she will ever have of her former home are memories. In addition to the structure being a total loss, Wicker's old home had asbestos insulation, meaning that any belongings recouped from the wreckage also had to be disposed of.
"It was the family home," Wicker said. "My mom and dad bought it when I was born. I've never known another place to be home. It was always my home. So I'm not only mourning the fact that, you know, we don't have anything at home, but also the fact that all those memories and everything that we had in that home are just gone."
While being reassured by family and friends that her new home -- which will have the same exact floor plan as the old one -- will ultimately be better, "better to one person isn't always better to somebody else," Wicker said.
"I mean, growing up you do things, we used to measure our height on the side of the wall," Wicker said. "I could walk in and show you exactly where that was at. I mean, (when) I was young, we drew a little smiley face on the wall and it's something that we never covered up. It was just there, you know? And it wasn't big. It was there because I've seen it, I knew it was there. You had to go looking for it. And you'll just never see those things again."
Up the road in
Boehme and her husband, Kurt, had to fight their way out of their
The damage on their home was assessed at
"Too many memories," Boehme said. "Couldn't do it. It wouldn't have been the same. ... We basically raised our kids here, so we couldn't just up and leave."
Still, there are some things that will never be the same. Beyond the damage done to their home, the tornado uprooted the fruit trees and the blackberry and raspberry bushes in their front yard.
Boehme said she probably will not replant them, sighing that "wouldn't be the same," now that she and her husband are empty-nesters.
"We had them when we first got the house, so they kind of grew with the kids, so I don't know," Boehme said. "That's where we took homecoming and prom pictures and that kind of thing, in front of the trees."
The rebuild of the house is still a work in progress -- insulation remains visible on the living room ceiling and new flooring has yet to be installed. Boehme said they have received insurance money, but are determined to do all the repairs themselves, which may set the timeline back.
"We'll probably be the last house in the neighborhood to be done, but that's okay," Boehme said.
"You just take it one day at a time," she said. "You know, like I said, I look at my house and I think, 'oh, I can't live like this much longer.' And then you think that you're lucky to be alive, so suck it up and move on."
The recovery continues
As time goes on, things are slowly returning to normal for
A long-term recovery team that had met weekly for eight months following the tornado now meets only once every two or three weeks.
Thousands of town residents will come downtown for the city's annual Christmas parade, an event that was postponed at the last minute last year as the tornado approached town.
"I've thought about it several times, had we not canceled the parade and people were just right there (on the square), I just can't believe someone wouldn't have been killed," Crews said. "I don't like toss words out like 'well, we saved lives ... blah, blah blah.' But I think in this particular case, you could pretty successfully argue when you have a (major) tornado 100 yards from where 1,000 people are standing, something would have happened. So that was a good decision."
Several decisions made that day appeared to contribute to the remarkable fact that no one was killed in spite of all the wreckage. Many consider themselves blessed, even if the physical recovery is slower than they would like and the emotional scars remain.
Legg said the recovery has made "some good progress," but that "there's still a lot of houses with tarps on them."
"So, I mean when you look at the map, like when the tornado hit Joplin, it pretty much wiped it off the map," Legg said. "There was so much damage there. And there's a lot of towns that are still recovering three, four, five years later after the tornadoes. And I think we're on a good stride to hopefully be done next year with a lot of this recovery ... But clearly, we're still in need for some volunteers, we're still in need for some financial help."
The group hopes to raise an additional
Wicker, who has relied almost entirely on volunteers in her home building process, said any little bit of help would make a difference. She plans to pay it forward once her home is complete.
"I plan on finishing mine and going over and helping Peggy, who is next (in line for a new home)," Wicker said. "It's not done until everybody's done."
How to help: Missions for
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