After The Storm: "We'll never be the same" - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

After The Storm: Higdon, Alabama family rebuilds, includes "safe room"

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HIGDON, ALABAMA -

HIGDON, ALABAMA (WRCB)-  Thirty years ago, Robert Bethune of Higdon built his dream home, one log at a time.  But on April 27, 2011 Robert and his family prayed in a tiny closet as their home was reduced to splinters. The Bethunes have rebuilt, but life will never be the same.

THE WAY IT USED TO BE

It was country living at its best.  A log home, surrounded by trees and picturesque scenes; a family enjoying nature's bounty. "You couldn't see none of these houses," Robert said.  "It was full of timber, we had a lot of privacy."

But at 5:30 p.m. on April 27 Robert, his wife, Wonda, daughter and son-in law Lora and Tim Poore and five other family members had heard a tornado was coming.  They had about fifteen minutes notice.  They held hands and prayed in a small closet, knowing there was nothing they could do to save the family home.

Lora said, "People say it was two or three minutes, but that's not right.  It was about fifteen or twenty seconds.  We thought the floor was coming up toward us, that's how much things were shaking and vibrating.  When it was over, the roof and garage were completely gone. All that was left was the wall standing."

(WRCB)- Thirty years ago, Robert Bethune of Higdon built his dream home, one log at a time. But on April 27, 2011 Robert and his family prayed in a tiny closet as their home was reduced to splinters. The Bethunes have rebuilt, but life will never be the same.

THE WAY IT USED TO BE

It was country living at its best. A log home, surrounded by trees and picturesque scenes; a family enjoying nature's bounty. "You couldn't see none of these houses," Robert said. "It was full of timber, we had a lot of privacy."

But at 5:30 p.m. on April 27 Robert, his wife, Wonda, daughter and son-in law Lora and Tim Poore and five other family members had heard a tornado was coming. They had about fifteen minutes notice. They held hands and prayed in a small closet, knowing there was nothing they could do to save the family home.

Lora said, "People say it was two or three minutes, but that's not right. It was about fifteen or twenty seconds. We thought the floor was coming up toward us, that's how much things were shaking and vibrating. When it was over, the roof and garage were completely gone. All that was left was the wall standing."

The washer and dryer traded places during the storm. Bathrooms were demolished. Hundred-year-old bedroom furniture was scratched and nicked. Incredibly, among the few untouched areas were kitchen shelves stocked with cans and jars. But everything else was destroyed. Once-stout logs were tossed around like toothpicks.

"WE'LL NEVER BE THE SAME"

Robert, who recently turned sixty, said, "It's changed us big time. Not a day goes by that I don't think about it. You wonder how it stayed on the ground long enough to tear up what it tore up. I built that log house by hand, and it stood for almost thirty years. And in a few seconds, it's just wiped out."

The clean-up process began immediately. "FEMA was supposed to clear out a lot of the foundation and debris, but they never came back, "Bethune said. "So we've just done it ourselves, with the help of family and some good neighbors and friends up here. I've still got to clear out all the logs. It makes Wonda sad to see them here."

The Bethunes lived in a camper for months as construction began on their new home. Now almost complete, the sturdy brick structure is a sharp contrast to its rustic predecessor. "I love our new home," Wonda says, "but it's not the log house. He (Robert) did that all on his own. I was always proud of what he did."

"NOW WE HAVE A SAFE ROOM"

The Bethune's tornado nightmare played a big part in plans for their new home. "Bricks are a lot less upkeep," Robert said, "and we've poured a lot of concrete. It's rock solid."

Also, the basement features a large "safe room," designed to protect all the Bethunes' family members and neighbors. "It's way bigger than that closet we used to have, and it's sturdy," Robert said. "It's got a strong solid door. It's just about impossible to get through this."

A NEW VIEW

Although the once lush country scenery is comparatively barren now, the Bethunes see a silver lining. "We don't have those trees anymore, but now we can see everybody and they can see us. We can look out for our neighbors, and they can look out for us. We're just glad to be alive, and on Sand Mountain," Robert said. "There's no better place to be."

"WE'LL NEVER BE THE SAME"

Robert, who recently turned sixty, said, "It's changed us big time.  Not a day goes by that I don't think about it. You wonder how it stayed on the ground long enough to tear up what it tore up.  I built that log house by hand, and it stood for almost thirty years.  And in a few seconds, it's just wiped out."

The clean-up process began immediately.  "FEMA was supposed to clear out a lot of the foundation and debris, but they never came back, "Bethune said.  "So we've just done it ourselves, with the help of family and some good neighbors and friends up here.  I've still got to clear out all the logs.  It makes Wonda sad to see them here." 

The Bethunes lived in a camper for months as construction began on their new home.  Now almost complete, the sturdy brick structure is a sharp contrast to it's rustic predecessor.  "I love our new home," Wonda says, "but it's not the log house.  He (Robert) did that all on his own.  I was always proud of what he did."

"NOW WE HAVE A SAFE ROOM"

The Bethune's tornado nightmare played a big part in plans for their new home.  "Bricks are a lot less upkeep," Robert said, "and we've poured a lot of concrete.  It's rock solid."

Also, the basement features a large "safe room," designed to protect all the Bethunes' family members and neighbors.  "It's way bigger than that closet we used to have, and it's sturdy," Robert said.  "It's got a strong solid door.  It's just about impossible to get through this."

A NEW VIEW

Although the once lush country scenery is comparatively barren now, the Bethunes see a silver lining.  "We don't have those trees anymore, but now we can see everybody and they can see us.  We can look out for our neighbors, and they can look out for us.  We're just glad to be alive, and on Sand Mountain," Robert said.  "There's no better place to be."

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