A month after the Georgia tornado, some families are still struggling

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Capt. Chris Hodge, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, talks to Mike Fox as he sits surrounded by the remains of his home in the Park Place neighborhood of Ellabell, Ga. Fox and his wife Michelle were sheltering in their hall when the tornado tore through their home on April 5, 2022 (Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News via AP)

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Nolan Driggers reached the front door, the children in tow and his wife a step behind him.

The family of four were trying to leave their home in Ellabell and hit the highway after hearing about a tornado that had touched down in Pembroke. Driggers didn’t realize he was only seconds away from his neighborhood when he received the notification.

Moments later, his house was upside down.

“We were at home and I was watching the weather,” Driggers said. “Everything was pretty calm at home. Then they said a tornado hit Pembroke. When I opened the back door to leave, I saw the tornado hit the roof of my neighbor’s house. As he came over ours, I tried to pull a mattress over us. Our house started to rock two or three times. All the while, my wife was praying. We didn’t think we were going to make it. »

Once the storm passed, he called everyone but there was one person who did not answer. At that point, Driggers said he started praying that his child didn’t die.

“I couldn’t find my 3-year-old anywhere,” Driggers said. “I was trying to hold on to my two daughters, but they slipped out of my hands. I found my 9 year old but couldn’t find my 3 year old. There were a bunch of stuffed animals and blankets scattered around from the tornado. Finally, I saw her feet and picked her up. At first she said nothing. I started shaking her and asking her if she was okay. Then she smiled and said, ‘I’m fine.’ When I first saw his feet under all that, I started screaming at the top of my lungs.

Amid the chaos, Driggers didn’t realize he had dislocated his shoulder. Additionally, he suffered multiple cuts to his hip which resulted in a staph infection. “My leg got to where I couldn’t step on it. I thought I could fix it myself. Four or five days later, I was in the hospital.

The family was given an RV to use temporarily, but since it was only 24 feet wide, they knew it wouldn’t be a comfortable space for long-term living. Driggers admitted he was frustrated with FEMA, saying he felt they were going to provide assistance to those affected by the tornado.

“It’s my fault,” Driggers said. “We didn’t have home insurance. “We were waiting for FEMA to come in, then I found out FEMA wasn’t coming.”

But nearly a month after the day of the tornado, Bryan County Sheriff Mark Crowe, Marty and Cindy Daniel of Daniel Defense, God’s Pit Crew and former NASCAR driver Jeb Burton provided the family with new mobile home, with all new furnishings.

“It’s amazing,” Driggers said. “I’m so grateful for everyone’s support.”

OTHER FAMILIES STILL STRUGGLE TO FIND HELP

But one family was not so lucky.

Yvonne Whitfield, whose home was destroyed in the Homestead housing estate in Ellabell, is in a battle with her insurance company over a clause she says is enforced in her new policy, which does not come into effect only in June.

“What they are telling us is that they have a clause in my new policy that if the property needs repairs they will pay living expenses for a reasonable amount of time for us to live somewhere and they will pay the food and rent. and things like that,” Whitfield said.

“But if our house is a total loss, they will only pay for the first seven days after they sign the housing check. Now that they cut the check on housing, I’m stuck with all my extra living expenses, plus my mortgage payment that I have to keep making.

Whitfield said her insurance company quoted only $42,000 in damages. Before the storm hit, Whitfield thought insurance would cover most or all of his expenses. In all, she spent $10,000 and counting. “For the past month, we’ve been eating out and paying people.”

Whitfield added that she feels other communities have been put ahead of hers when it comes to cleanup efforts. But she praised two groups that have stepped up significantly.

“I don’t think they did it on purpose, but I don’t think they realized how bad it was on our end,” Whitfield said. “But Pembroke Advanced Communications – they were amazing with their equipment, their generosity and their camaraderie. And Sam-Jay Landscaping was also very helpful. Without them, we wouldn’t have made it this far. »

For now, Whitfield is forced to pay for her RV and the mortgage on her destroyed house. She said it has been a painful process as she and her husband continue to shell out money to ensure they stay on top of their spending.

“We pay for insurance so you’re protected,” Whitfield said. “But you are not protected. They protect themselves. My neighbour, who has another insurance company, is having his house re-roofed. Their truck is being repaired. I didn’t go anywhere. We are already going through enough emotions and stress and trying to salvage things. There are things that are gone and you can’t replace them.


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