One family loses everything
May 4, a devastating tornado swept up nearly all of J.C. and Allena
Brashers possessions. Here, J.C. looks at the smashed cab of
his red Ford F-150, which was picked up and thrown several hundred
and Allena Brasher are among thousands still rebuilding after a series
of tornados struck 50 Missouri counties
in early May. The storms claimed 19 lives, caused massive damage and destroyed
most of Pierce City and Stockton. Still reeling three months later, the
Brashers, who live just 18 miles from Stockton, ride a constant wave of
emotion distraught one moment, then happy to be alive the next.
On a pleasant Sunday afternoon, J.C. Brasher was in his shed, repairing
a welder, when the wind stopped. It had been about 85 degrees most of
that afternoon, May 4, but a gentle breeze rustled through the pasture,
and it felt nice outside. Allena, J.C.s wife, and their 6-year-old
granddaughter, Laura, were in the house watching TV while J.C. worked.
it grew hot. J.C. stopped, wiped his brow and stepped outside. He looked
to the west and there, not even a quarter-mile away, he saw it.
country, miles from wailing sirens, there had been no warning of a tornado.
But there it was, filling the sky, spinning end over end like a sausage
grinder, J.C. says, shredding trees, dirt and houses as it went.
toward the house as quickly as his 57-year-old legs would carry him.
Get in the car! A tornados coming right at the house!
he shouted, knowing that without a basement, they didnt stand a
chance. Allena slipped on a pair of sandals, grabbed her purse and snatched
Laura by the hand. They rushed outside to their car and Allena sped down
their narrow, winding drive. Although she hit 50 mph, the monstrous tornado
gained on them.
Faster! J.C. screamed. He watched helplessly as the beast grew nearer.
burst onto the pavement and spun east, heading toward J.C.s brothers
house. They arrived eight minutes later and dashed inside, where the rest
of the family waited for them. They ran down to the basement and slammed
the door shut behind them. Outside it grew dark. When they looked out
the small basement window, they saw trees crashing to the ground. Laura
began to cry.
Brashers now lean on each other and God for strength.
scared, she said. My calf and puppy are still outside.
lets pray, Allena said. God will watch over them and
minutes they huddled in the basement while the tornado roared overhead.
Finally, it grew silent and the sky brightened. J.C. opened the back door
and stepped into the yard. A softball-size chunk of hail rested next to
a chunk of siding from J.C.s barn. Weve lost her,
and Allena drove back to their farm. Fallen trees and debris blocked the
drive so they walked up the hill. When they reached the top, they saw
their pale-yellow house with rust-red shutters had been reduced to a pile
of cinder blocks. The red barn was a heap of splinters and the fences
were stripped and bent. Three other buildings were demolished and J.C.s
Ford pickup was crumpled into a ball and dropped on adjacent property.
A four-wheeler he had bought the day before hung in a tree. Photos, antiques,
everything they had gathered through 38 years of marriage were gone.
in utter silence, they spotted Lauras calf, Jewels, near where the
barn once stood. Several minutes later, they heard a small, pitiful whine.
They followed it to a pile of lumber where Lauras black and white
puppy trembled with fear. Laura lifted it to her chest and smiled. Over
the deafening roar of the tornado, God had heard a small childs
after the tornado, Ben, the Brashers youngest son, flew in from
wasnt seeing the house was gone that bothered me. It was the looks
on their faces, he says. It was watching my own family scavenge
through rubble for anything.
family helped sort through the wreckage. They threw salvageable items
onto a flatbed trailer that remained mostly empty. Ben looked at his suitcase
and realized he had more in that small bag than his parents had left.
Sac Osage Electric Cooperative linemen would later tell them it was the
worst damage theyd seen all week.
of the tornado Allena briefly went into shock, but she has held up fairly
well. J.C., on the other hand, has suffered. For the first couple days,
he coped by putting up fences and gathering debris. But on the fourth
day, standing among his tattered belongings, the devastation finally caught
up with him.
All of a sudden, I just went to pieces, J.C. says.
kicks over a car battery while searching for salvagable possessions.
The family lost nearly everything they owned.
8, he had a panic attack. The next day, while taking a nap, he began hyperventilating
and flashed back to the tornado. Although he is slowly getting better,
he often gets frustrated.
know what its like starting over at my age? he asks. There
are days I wish I wouldve went with it.
J.C. and Allena call a borrowed, 35-foot camper in his mothers backyard
home. They wander in and out of her house during the days and spend nights
in the camper. Although they have laid the foundation of their new home
which will have a storm cellar it will not be complete for
another five months.
meantime, they wait. Allena is on the phone most days, talking to insurance
companies and applying for loans while J.C. spends his time slowly rebuilding
for financial assistance has not been easy, Allena says. Insurance has
covered a portion of the losses, but the rest will have to be paid with
loans. The couple was denied grants from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, which only offers help for minimal expenses, and mainly for those
without insurance and shelter. By late June, FEMA had issued approximately
$21 million worth of grants and loans to tornado victims. The aid, however,
barely begins to cover the estimated $400 million in damage caused by
J.C. and Allena pay for expenses out of their own pockets, which arent
very deep. Allena was laid off from her job as a teachers aide at
Lamar Elementary School two weeks before the tornado because of budget
cuts. J.C. hasnt worked since the Friday before the tornado and
recently took early retirement. All they have left now is the little they
had in their safe deposit box.
surveys the family's new home foundation.
the Brashers can eventually replace most of their belongings, they miss
the personal items theyve held dear for so many years. They cannot
replace the cedar chest made from a tree in Allenas childhood family
farm or her daughters wedding dress that was inside. They will never
again see the Noritake china J.C. brought back from Hong Kong more than
30 years ago, or the collection of antiques passed down for generations.
the one lost item that upset Allena most has been returned. On the evening
of the tornado, she had slipped her wedding ring off to make strawberry
shortcake. When she rushed out of the house, she forgot to grab it. For
a week, Allena prayed she would find her wedding ring. Since the family
couldnt even find their washer or dryer, it seemed unlikely theyd
find a ring. Miraculously, her daughter found it a week later lying in
a field 50 yards from the house.
have learned to recognize and appreciate their blessings. They are awed
by the generosity of complete strangers. Teens from Kansas City volunteered
to clean debris for several days. Local merchants and their church donated
supplies and clothing.
have been extremely giving, Allena says. This has really built
our faith in people and God. Our faith in God has carried us through this
and will continue to give us strength.
the Brashers arent sure where the next paycheck will come from,
they are confident everything will work out. For now, they remain like
so many others a Midwest family taking one day at a time.