Webster's Chapel family begins to heal after total devastation
by Brooke Carbo
bcarbo@annistonstar.com
Jun 27, 2011 | 3241 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the two months since a tornado ripped through Webster’s Chapel, shattering Donna Farrell’s home and many of the bones in her body, she has begun making a list for her insurance company of everything she lost.

Some things on the list are easy to remember, like her kitchen table and the curtains on the wall. Others sneak up on her, like her husband’s John Wayne collection and cookbooks from back home.

“You get five pages into it and have to have a break,” Farrell said. “You realize how much you’ve lost.”

There are some things she knows won’t be replaced with an insurance check. Buried somewhere in a pile of storm debris is nearly everything that belonged to her daughter, Stephanie Snow, including a 1930s viola, a gift from her grandfather, and 12 short stories Stephanie wrote and illustrated during her many stays in the hospital.

“She used to love to write stories,” Farrell recalled. “One called ‘Silly Willy Feet’ was about a kid who was different from other kids and how they made fun of him. She turned it around to how he overcame it.”

Stephanie died of cancer on July 9, 2000, at the age of 11. Farrell said a quilt made by her fifth grade class and a flannel teddy bear, a gift from her aunt, were the only memories of Stephanie that could be salvaged.

“All her stories are gone,” Farrell said. “All her pictures, different awards she won, they’re all gone.”

On April 27, Farrell and her 17-year-old son, Michael Snow, were taking shelter in a closet as the tornado touched down on Dove Welch Road, picking up their trailer and flinging it in a nearby ditch.

“We were together in the closet holding on to one another,” Farrell recalled. “They found us still holding on to one another. They dug us out that way.”

According to Farrell’s husband, Mike, the family’s German Shepard, Woogie, likely saved their life by drawing rescuers’ attention with his bark.

“They were buried under 12 feet of rubble,” Mike said. “I talked to the guy that found them and he said if it hadn’t been for the dog they wouldn’t have known where they were.”

Michael suffered a concussion and a broken nose and has no memory of that week. Farrell broke her neck, back, ribs and shoulder blade, among other bones, punctured a lung and suffered a small stroke due to the amount of debris piled on her neck. Woogie didn’t make it. Neither did a couple who lived down the street.

Closer to normal

Aside from the memory loss, Michael has recovered from his injuries.

Farrell’s recovery has not been quite as swift. She said that back surgery left her with two titanium rods on either side of her spine that she will likely have for life, and she is four weeks into what will be at least a four month stint in physical therapy. But of her extensive injuries, only one is still cause for concern. She can’t lift her right arm due to nerve damage in her shoulder, which her doctor said may take as long as eights months to heal.

Today, the family is renting a trailer not far from their damaged property and has plans to rebuild on the site soon.

“A single story with a basement,” Farrell said. “And a storm shelter.”

Mike, who raced home from his tour in Afghanistan after the storm hit, is on leave indefinitely to care for his wife and help his family get back to normal. “I’m here as long as I need to be here,” he said.

Woogie, the family hero, is gone but far from forgotten. Mike still keeps his picture on his phone and said that Molly, the family’s other dog, still perks up when she hears his name.

“They grew up together,” he explained. “If we say his name she starts looking around like, where is he?”

On Father’s Day, a three-month-old black German Shepard named Harley joined the family. According to Mike, Molly still misses Woogie, as they all do, but has done her best to welcome the new addition.

“She keeps him in his place,” he said. “She’s training him. He follows her outside and copies what she does.”

For Farrell, the hardest part of recovery has been coping with the loss of her daughter's things. She keeps what she has left, Stephanie's quilt and teddy bear, close at hand but no storm could steal away the memories she carries of her daughter. No one in the family is short on those.

Though there is still a long road ahead of them, Farrell, Mike and Michael are moving closer to normal every day.

Sunday, six carpenters from Louisiana came into town to help Mike rebuild the family’s garage, destroyed in the storm along with their trailer and recently erected barn. He knows it’s just a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“It’s a way to start over,” he said.

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Webster's Chapel family begins to heal after total devastation by Brooke Carbo
bcarbo@annistonstar.com

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