After the storm, more decisions loom

04/16/2012 5:00 AM

08/05/2014 6:55 PM

For some in Oaklawn, moving on means just that — move! For others, it means staying put.

In the aftermath and shock of Saturday night’s tornado that ravaged a mobile home park and nearby homes, folks stepped into Monday trying to calculate their next step.

Deal with claims adjusters. Consider repairs and find a reputable contractor. Decide what to keep and what to toss. How to get the next meal. Find a place to live. Put some order back in life.

Mary Aguilera, 47, knows exactly what she’s doing — staying in the home she owns and where she has lived since the second grade.

Never mind the tornado ripped off the south side of her house and inflicted roof and other damage. Or that she didn’t have homeowners insurance.

“I lost it a couple of months ago because I couldn’t afford the payments,” Aguilera said. “But this is my home. I grew up here. My kids and nephews grew up here.”

So one of her nephews and some of his friends plan to do the repair work themselves. She’ll continue to stay at her sister’s house in the meantime.

“We’ll figure this out,” Aguilera said.

Farther south in Oaklawn, at the heavily damaged Pinaire Mobile Home Park, residents and volunteers were sorting through tossed belongings and considering their options. Some flinched when the weekly tornado siren test went off at noon.

Sue and Mark Barrow picked through the remains of the mobile home where they have lived for seven years. It now has two new skylights courtesy of the tornado, plus other damage.

“I’m not going to live in another mobile home,” Mark Barrow said. “When we get the insurance money, we’re buying a home.”

For those who want to stay, Pinaire park owner Trent Hardison plans to keep it open.

“My first reaction was I didn’t want to,” he said. “It was like, ‘Man, it just makes you sick.’ But I had so many residents come up and make sure it would be open. They really like the community. That right there changed my opinion.”

Hardison has lived at the park since 1989 — seven years after he and his father built it. Two of his children live there in mobile homes.

“This is our community, our home, too,” he said.

There are about 130 mobile homes in the park that has lots for about 160. He’s not sure how many were damaged beyond repair, although state officials have said 92 of the mobile homes sustained more than 50 percent damage.

Hardison’s home sustained minor damage, and one of children’s homes was extensively beat up by the storm.

Church groups and other volunteers were helping residents Monday with the cleanup. A piece of plywood had a message, “Tornado was here” painted on it. Another read, “Will be back.”

Residents have been getting help from the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Some have been staying with friends or relatives, others in a motel, while they try to plot more permanent living arrangements.

Dawn Gunter, 27, tears up when she thinks of the next step for herself, three children and fiance. Her 1970s mobile home was not only destroyed, but she didn’t have insurance on the home where she has lived for two years.

“I tried to get it three months ago,” Gunter said as her children picked through the debris looking for things to keep, “but they told me our home was too old to insure.”

She turned to one of her children and said, “Don’t worry about the toys.”

Returning to surveying her smashed home, Gunter said. “I have no clue what we’re going to do. We’ve been with friends, but that’s not going to last forever. The Red Cross gave us some gift cards, but that’s not going to help with a place to live.”

At a house north of the park that has a gaping hole created by a large tree branch, Tony and Katrina Wilson said they and their four dogs, bird and several fish aren’t going anywhere.

“You can’t get rid of us,” said Tony, who has a lease-to-buy agreement. He has renter’s insurance and the owner has insurance with a $5,000 deductible. “We like this place. We’ll fix it up.”

“There’s no place like home,” Katrina said. Yes, she really said that. “I’ve watched that movie 100 times,” she added.

No doubt the Wilsons and plenty of others will be getting plenty of offers to help with the repairs. Not many contractors were in the Oaklawn neighborhood Monday, although a number of roofing contractors had put up signs in the area.

“Be very careful of giving money or signing a contract with someone without talking to your agent or Better Business Bureau,” said Rick Beckler, team manager for State Farm Insurance who was at a customer service tent in a parking lot near Clifton and 47th Street South. “They tell you, ‘Give us your money and we’ll get back out here with the materials.’ History has shown they don’t always return.”

Leanna and Saravanh Bounsana are doing the work themselves, repairing window, roof and fence damage at the home they own just north of 47th. They thought they had insurance.

“We gave money to a friend who was supposed to give it to an insurance company for our insurance,” Leanna said. “Instead they bought home insurance for themselves. We didn’t find out until the night of the tornado.”

To help pay for materials for the repairs, Leanna said they are using a small settlement she received two weeks ago from a back injury she sustained at work.

But if you think all of that makes the Bounsanas feel a tad bitter, you would never know it. Leanna was busy Monday grilling about 200 hotdogs in the front yard to serve to neighbors and workers in the area — just as she had done on Sunday.

“Everyone here is hungry and working,” she said. “You have to do what you can.”

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