Stan Barnwell

Stan Barnwell at the site of his house in Nances Creek, where he was almost killed by a tornado on March 19, 2018. (Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)

Stan Barnwell says he has spent the last year spiritually rebuilding after his childhood home on Hollingsworth Road was destroyed by last year’s tornado.

“I know my personal purpose more than ever,” he said in a recent interview. “The Lord left me here for a reason, so I try to encourage people and help them through their personal storms.”

He said he tells his story at churches and to everyone he meets.

Barnwell was trapped inside a 2005 Buick LaSabre for more than hour after the center of the vortex passed over him.

“I watched the tree I climbed as a kid take down a huge chunk of metal coming toward me,” he said. “It fell maybe 20 feet from where I was trapped in my car. You can’t tell me that wasn’t the Lord’s plan.”

Piedmont Rescue Squad fought through downed electrical wires and immense flooding to free him from the car.

Barnwell did not return to what was left of his home until Easter Sunday, almost two weeks after the storm. He said he still has not entered the basement, the only part of the house that survived the destruction.

“I went to a sunrise service and wanted to see the mountain,” he said. “I just kept driving and ended up at the house. I was led there at the time I needed to be. I was finally ready to go back.”

Following the tornado, he stayed with a friend until he got married and moved into a garage apartment.

“It changed my life and made me change my focus,” he said. “It’s a tough walk, but I don’t deny what happened to me. It made me realize that my treasures are not in my possessions. My friends are my blessings.”

Barnwell said he lost photos of his late wife and of his granddaughters when they were babies.

“We recovered some of them, but not a lot,” he said. “Some of the pictures were found miles from the house.”

Uninsured, he said he estimates the demolition of his house alone will cost between $5,000 and $10,000. A GoFundMe account was set up to help cover the cost of the damages and has raised $1,640 of the $5,000 goal in the last year.

He plans to begin rebuilding in the coming months across the street from where his childhood home used to stand.  

“It’s quite a change at 66 years old, having to build a house,” he said.