Liberty Hill families finding peace, blessings after the storms
By SHELLY WILKISON
In the seconds they were communicating with each other by phone and text, trying to figure out whether to take cover and where, three families at the end of Tomahawk Trail were slammed by an F1 tornado that destroyed their homes, but strengthened their faith.
“We are so blessed,” said Sheryl Carpenter, one week after the storm. “We have everything. We have our lives.”
When Bud and Sheryl Carpenter, Neal and Sharon Landry, and Rex and Nancy Lane (the parents of twins Sheryl and Sharon) left their homes in the darkness, shaken by the storm the night of May 23, they didn’t expect the blessings that would follow.
“We saw the message to take shelter. We were in a mobile home, and Bud kept saying ‘we need to get out of here’,” Mrs. Carpenter said.
Just after the house went black and the Carpenters began moving toward the door, the wind picked up the house.
“It just crashed to the ground,” she said. “We got to the door, and the house had torn apart from the concrete stairs.”
The couple jumped to the ground, found their way to a truck as lightning cleared a path in the darkness. They drove to her parents’ house next door.
When the Carpenters approached the house, a large piece of red steel had pierced the outside wall of her parents’ bedroom. The porch from the Carpenters’ mobile home was hanging on top of her parents’ house.
Minutes earlier as the storm neared Indian Oaks, Lane was watching the weather warnings on television. His wife was getting ready for bed. When the power went out, Lane went to the French doors at the back porch and reached to open them hoping to see the sky.
“I felt the pressure in my ears,” he said.
Just as he placed his hands on the door knobs, “the whole door blew out. It was sucked out, and it felt like it was going to take me with it,” Lane said.
The French doors are made of metal and weigh about 200 pounds. Glass shattered and instantly covered the floors.
Mrs. Lane said she thought the storm lasted about three minutes. She waited in the bathroom as her husband tried to figure out what was happening. She heard the glass shattering, and came into the living room.
“When I found Rex, I was okay,” Mrs. Lane said.
Mrs. Landry, whose home is at the front of the 15-acre property, frantically sent text messages to her sister wondering if she should wake up and move her brother-in-law with special needs who was in her care.
“She saw a pole from the front porch fly by the window as she was texting,” Mrs. Carpenter said.
“Rain was just pouring inside our house, and I had no idea what had happened,” said Mrs. Landry, who moved her family to one room where they stayed through the storm.
In addition to their homes, the tornado totaled several vehicles, including a travel trailer.
While the stories of the families’ harrowing ordeal will long be told, they agree that the real story is one that is still ongoing days and weeks later.
The morning light May 24 brought dozens of people to Tomahawk Trail looking to lend a hand.
“This community just started coming out to help,” said Mrs. Carpenter. “People just showed up. This town is just amazing.”
Members of Capstone Baptist Church, where the Carpenters are members, rallied to the aid of the families.
“This will be a long process,” said Pastor Colin McGahey, who predicted a two-month timeline for cleanup and reconstruction. The Pastor created a page on www.signupgenius.com and posted the link on Facebook where volunteers began organizing themselves for work days last weekend.
McGahey cancelled church on May 24 and more than 100 people from the congregation met at Tomahawk Trail to help.
Over the past two weekends, some have brought heavy equipment to move downed trees, tin roofing and siding from collapsed barns, storage sheds and well houses, while others have brought trucks and trailers to haul items to donated storage units.
Even more volunteers, including young people from Liberty Hill Junior High’s National Junior Honor Society, went to work picking up trash and cutting broken limbs from damaged trees.
Last Friday, a fencing company in Florence sent its workers to Tomahawk Trail to help. Mrs. Carpenter said she didn’t know how they learned of their situation and didn’t know the owners.
Mrs. Landry said Chris Baker Electric Company sent a crew to repair power lines.
Many others have brought food and water, ice and supplies.
Mrs. Carpenter said she didn’t know all of the people who had come to their aid, and was reluctant to name any worried that she would omit someone. She said she and her family have been moved by the goodness in people.
“These people are giving up their time for us,” she said, weeping.
What many might not have known was that the Carpenters typically choose Memorial Day weekend as a time of service to others.
In recent years, when tornadoes devastated parts of Oklahoma, the Carpenters traveled to that state to help with the cleanup.
“We just wanted to help,” she said.
Mrs. Carpenter said her parents had no insurance on their home, so much of the cleanup last weekend was focused there. Repairs were made to the roof and the siding, the air conditioning unit was replaced, power and water were restored so that her parents could continue to stay in their home.
With the help of volunteers, the Carpenters packed up the items that were salvageable from their totaled mobile home and put them in storage units, which were also donated.
Mrs. Carpenter said Susan Baker and Operation Liberty Hill came to their aid right away.
The needs of the Carpenter family, the Lane family and the Landry family are great. Those who would like to help, may donate items or cash to Operation Liberty Hill and direct the donation to their attention.
Co-workers of Mrs. Carpenter and Neal Landry at Scott & White Hospital also established an account through GoFundMe to assist the families. Contributions can be made at www.gofundme/sherylandneal.
Those able to assist with the physical labor to clean up and rebuilt, may go online to http://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0f44afa623a57-liberty.
“For Christians and people of God, this is an opportunity to do what we have been called to do,” said McGahey. “It is awesome to see.”
“I think the Lord is using this to bring people together,” said Mrs. Lane, a member of Union Hall Baptist Church. “It is a blessing to see so many people here. It’s just overwhelming. Liberty Hill is a small community with a lot of love. “God is good,” she said.