Family recounts blessings, progress one year after the storm

Sheryl Carpenter and brother-in-law Neal Landry, stand on the Landrys’ porch a year after it was destroyed by an F1 tornado. It has been completely repaired and represents signs of a new beginning for the family. (Christine Bolaños Photo)

Sheryl Carpenter and brother-in-law Neal Landry, stand on the Landrys’ porch a year after it was destroyed by an F1 tornado. It has been completely repaired and represents signs of a new beginning for the family. (Christine Bolaños Photo)

By Christine Bolaños

When an F5 tornado struck Joplin, Miss., in May 2011, causing 158 deaths, injuring more than 1,000 people and costing $2.8 billion, the world watched in horror.

One Liberty Hill family hopped in the car as part of a local church mission trip and decided to help families devastated by the deadliest tornado to hit the United States since 1947.

The following May, the family once again drove to the aid of some friends whose home was damaged by a tornado in Oklahoma.

This time last year, their lives took a 360-degree turn when they were left picking up the pieces after an F1 tornado struck their property on Tomahawk Drive, causing severe damage — and even totaling one of their homes.

Within hours, friends, neighbors, churchgoers, community members and even strangers, came out to help clear the area of debris, bring needed supplies, help fix fences, drop off food and water and even, potted plants.

“It’s very humbling,” said twins Sharon Landry and Sheryl Carpenter in unison.

The women admit they were used to being on the other side of a situation.

“It is always more hard to receive than to give,” Landry said.

But, her sister said, the family had no other option than to rely on the community’s support to get back up after the devastating loss.

“There’s no way you could’ve done it all by yourself,” Carpenter said.

The twins will never forget the night of May 23, 2015, when they along with their husbands, Bud Carpenter and Neal Landry, respectively, and parents Rex and Nancy Lane, watched in horror as their doors were blown away, roofs collapsed, glass shattered and water levels rose on the ground. They recall the frantic calls and texts to each other trying to locate each other and their children.

The Carpenters’ mobile home was totaled during the storm and the family has been living in a camper for the last year.

“I lost my home and there’s some inconveniences like with laundry, weather, cooking and such,” Carpenter said.

The couple plans to start building a new home — one they had always planned to have — within the next month or so.

It’s the silver lining to a horrific event.

“The biggest blessing is I’m getting a house,” she said. “My feet will be on concrete.”

More importantly, they agreed, no one was injured. Material can be replaced. People cannot.

“Faith has helped us 100 percent,” Landry said. “There’s hope. There’s peace.”

So many individuals, churches, students and businesses stepped up to the plate following the event that the family finds it impossible to name everyone.

Dr. Thad Gillespie of Liberty Hill Dental donated cabinets. Austin Jeep Club provided vehicles to help haul tree limbs and branches and haul off metal.

Chris Pezold brought a tractor over. Bud and James Lane helped clear off brush and debris.

Operation Liberty Hill provided the family with some donated items. A Florence-based company replaced the Lanes’ entire fence. Liberty Hill electrician Chris Baker also pitched in. Tommy Turner provided use of equipment.

Jerry Martin, of the Austin area, donated an air conditioner.

Kirk Lafferty of Branding Iron Construction brought crews immediately to help with damage control.

“He brought in crews who helped start the drying process before insurance even got here,” Neal Landry said.

The Liberty Hill High School girls soccer team, the Liberty Hill Junior Honor Society and other school groups also volunteered their time and labor. The children’s classmates pitched in as did local church members.

“People showed up who I’ve never laid eyes on,” Mr. Landry said. “They brought water, sandwiches, food, toiletries. It’s truly humbling.”

He remembers one woman in particular who came walking down the street with two bags of chips. It could have been that was all she had to give, and to know that was a possibility, really tugged at Landry’s heartstrings.

Their church pastor, Colin McGahey of Capstone Baptist Church, rallied the community together for a work day a week after the tornado struck the family’s 15-acre property.

“Over 150 people showed up,” Carpenter said. “They were parked in the middle of the road and then he set up another work day the following Saturday.”

Mrs. Landry said the outpouring of support and love is engrained in the family’s collective memory.

“The best thing is not material possessions,” she said. “It’s the people that came to help.”

Her husband said elderly folks who could barely walk were out in the pasture, walking on rocks and limbs, trying to pick up metal.

“There was tons of metal from all the metal buildings,” Mrs. Landry said. “We lost tree after tree after tree.”

A recycling place in Bertram stayed open after hours to wait for all the metal the family brought in. In all, Carpenter estimates some 9,000 pounds of metal was collected.

The Landrys have since fully repaired their roof and ceiling, flooring and baseboards.

“All of that is fully repaired and repainted and re-shingled,” Mrs. Landry said.

The Lanes’ home was completely repaired, including a new roof and restoration of their master bedroom and bath. The air conditioner, doors and windows were replaced.

A well house was rebuilt while the Lanes’ garage was lost but not rebuilt. The couple now has a car port in its place.

The family continues to be touched by the community’s support.

“Just a huge ‘thank you’ and gratefulness to be a part of a community like this,” Mr. Landry said.

The twins emphasized how serious they are in their sentiment their family is blessed.

“It could’ve been so much worse,” Carpenter said. “Our house was destroyed, but people live through that every day.”