Wayne and Susie Dempsey

Wayne and Susie Dempsey with a photo inside their repaired home in Jacksonville, a year after a tornado wrecked the house and property. (Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)

Protected in a bathroom in their basement, Wayne and Susie F. Dempsey listened to the EF-3 tornado unleash its power on their 33-year-old, three-story house on Mountain Laurel Court.

“By the time it hit, all I could hear was the crunching and blowing and winds coming by the edge of the door,” Wayne said recently.

No more than 20 minutes later, the storm was gone, along with the daylight, their roof and the house’s third story. Even with the obvious losses, the couple still had no idea just how damaged their property was until the dawn.

After spending the night in their car, the Dempseys discovered the severe damage had left their house unsafe. The trees that once surrounded their home were now in twisted piles.

“The big decision we had to make in the whole first month was what we were going to do,” Susie says. “Are we going to be able to stand looking at this for the rest of our lives?”

The Dempseys, who are in their 70s, decided to have the home repaired. They were used to the place and its comforts, they said, and they knew they wouldn’t be able to find anything else like it in Jacksonville.

They spent three weeks in a Jacksonville hotel, two months in a cottage in Anniston, and six months in an apartment next door to their contractor’s building. They spent every single day at their house cleaning, organizing, and salvaging their belongings.

“In these months we had to buy furniture, we had to be in touch with insurance, we had to be involved in the rebuild ... We had to make all of these decisions,” Susie says. “Lots of decisions. You don’t know what to do.”

After nine months and over $400,000 in repairs and replacements, the Dempseys moved home Dec. 20.

“We thought it would never end,” Susie said. “We thought we would never get back in our house, but once you get in and you get settled, you kind of forget how hard it was.”