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Rinnie recovery continues year after deadly tornado

1:41 AM, Feb 28, 2013   |    comments
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  • Melissa Evans
    

Families in the Cumberland County community of Rinnie have some difficulty deciding when to mark the exact anniversary of last year's deadly tornado.  An EF2 tornado ripped through the rural area along Highway 127 on February 29, 2012.

"I guess you can go with February 28 or March 1.  Either way, it was this week a year ago," said Bunny Howe.

The pulverizing power of the tornado killed two of Howe's neighbors and pummeled her home.  Howe took cover with her twin 10-year-old boys Jacob and Jordan after seeing the twister lift her horse Diablo in the air and drop it on the other side of the yard.

"I slammed the front door because I saw it [the tornado] pick the horse up and flip the semi-trailer and said, 'I am out of here.' I jumped in the bathroom and lay on top of Jacob and Jordan and Jacob goes, 'Ma, what do we do now?' I said 'we pray' and thankfully the tornado did not kill us," said Howe.

Bunny and her family are still alive and well a year after the storm, albeit with an altered landscape.  In the last 12 months the Howe family has cut down countless trees, redone the roof on their home, and rebuilt their demolished race car garage. 

The garage is where they still marvel at the extreme hit or miss nature of the tornado.  The twister cut an almost surgically precise line in the garage as it bent beams of steel in a wall but left small toy cars untouched on a shelf just five feet away.

"If you just look at that how it bent that [steel beam in the wall], now walk in here and these plastic cars right here never moved off of that rack," said Bunny's husband Jim Howe.

"It destroyed the garage but never moved those little cars," laughed Bunny.

People in Rinnie have made some significant repairs in the year since the storm hit.  Much of the wooded area between homes remain a mangled mess of splintered trees.  Some property is noticeable for the way remaining wreckage has been rearranged as a reminder of those who did not survive the storm.  A stack of cinder blocks forms a cross at the site where Melissa "Lisa" Evans used to live.

"My sister-in-law, Lisa Evans, lived here. The double-wide trailer was sitting here, and it ended up all the way over there.  That's still part of the metal right up there in that tree," said brother-in-law George Jones.  "It looked like a bomb had blown [the home] apart. This was an act of nature and sometimes you just wonder why."

Jones rushed to his sister-in-law's home last year when he heard a tornado hit her neighborhood.  When he arrived, he found Lisa trapped in the wreckage of what was once her home.

"When we got over there, her legs were still pinned in the debris. I talked to her and she asked me about [her granddaughters] Chloe and Kaleigh," said Jones.

Lisa's young grandchildren were safe.  Just before the storm hit, Evans provided some level of protection by putting herself in harm's way.

"Lisa, her heart was so big. I know she's in heaven looking down because every time I see her granddaughters, Chloe and Kaleigh, I know she got on top of them to save their life," said Jones. 

Jones said he has seen the aerial shots of tornado damage countless times through the years.  However, now the mention of severe weather sends different signals to his brain.

"It is so different when it happens to you.  You hear about [tornadoes] and you see it on TV and you feel sorry for the people.   But when it hits somebody and you have to come over here and deal with it and you lose a family member, when your sister has to be the one you come up here, you cannot explain," said Jones as he fought back tears and remain composed.  "When we were driving down the driveway and I see the trees and I see this, I get cold chills. Now when you hear the word tornado I think of Lisa. When they mention storms on the weather, little Chloe starts crying and getting scared. We had Thanksgiving and Christmas and Lisa is not there. It is not the same. It will never be the same."

It only took a few moments for ferocious winds to wipe away the foundations of two families.  In addition to Evans, the storm also killed neighbor Carolyn Jones.  Much of her surviving family lives in Florida and Jones is now buried in Indiana.

Next door Bunny Howe and her loved ones thankfully emerged from the destruction uninjured. She has been able to rebuild with a new appreciation for life.

"Ours is a happy ending.  The worst thing would have been if we had to dig out one of these kids and it could have been a complete different outcome," said Howe.  "The ones you love, you need to make sure you tell them you love them every day.  There is no promise of tomorrow.  I just think about how blessed are.  We are alive."

Howe credits the severe weather warnings on her local radio station for providing her adequate time to seek life-saving shelter from the storm.

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