Saturday, October 09, 1999

Community rises from the debris


Disaster draws neighbors closer as they share coping

BY MARK CURNUTTE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONTGOMERY — Gene Makowski and Bruce Bardes lived around the corner for 20 years and knew each other well enough to wave going to and from work.

        Then their worlds — like their homes in the Montgomery Woods subdivision — were turned inside out by the April 9 tornado. Both houses were among dozens destroyed in Montgomery.

        Six months later, as their new homes rise from the debris, the men — like many other residents — are closer. They talk to each other almost every evening. That's been the upside to the tornado.

        “In a suburban neighborhood with a high turnover, it's easy to go from your house to your office and back again without stopping to get to know the people,” said Mr. Bardes, a retired General Electric engineer who now works as a consultant.

        Six of the 25 households have moved from the immediate area of Cornell Road and Valleystream and Lakewater drives. The ones who are staying have discovered a truer sense of community.

        “We look out for each other now,” said Wanda Hatfield, whose family will rebuild on Lakewater.

        As they've done almost every night for several weeks, the neighbors gathered Tuesday evening in front of the home being built for Gene and Pat Makowski at 11041 Valleystream Drive.

        The informal meetings are a time for neighbors to share information, celebrate little victories and comfort each other against the countless setbacks. They usually include tours of new construction to update each other on builders' progress.

        Tuesday's meeting was a time to mark the city's ap proval of the Hatfields' rebuilding plans. They had requested a change in variance because they were not building on the same foundation.

        “It's going to be a four-bedroom with a loft,” Mrs. Hatfield said. “We would like to be in April 9, but that might not happen.”

        “The kids need a home,” Eric Hatfield said of their four children.

        The neighbors already are planning for the one-year anniversary. One early idea is a progressive dinner that takes them from house to house.

        “It will be a time to say, "We're tougher than this thing,'” Mr. Bardes said.

        The neighbors had a block party Labor Day weekend on Valleystream. They had to bring everything. There were no garages to run into for an extra lawnchair, no decks crammed with outdoor furniture.

        Bruce and Eleanor Bardes will be the first of the rebuilding families to return.

        “They don't know it yet, but they're going to have to keep the coffee on and let us use the bathroom when we come to look at our houses,” said Mrs. Makowski.

        Mr. and Mrs. Bardes moved their home farther back from Cornell Road. They've got a bigger front yard now. They could move it back because the grove of tall pines that towered over the back of their original home were lost in the tornado.

        The neighbors are looking forward to coming home before the holidays. Some will. Some will not. Mrs. Bardes is happy that she found her cats, Calvin and Hobbs, who were lost for a short time after the tornado took out their home.

        “When we had the storm the other night with the thunder, Calvin and Hobbs ran for the closet and under the bed,” Mrs. Bardes said.

        Mrs. Hatfield chimed in. Her elementary school-age daughter climbed into bed with her parents when the thunderstorm hit.

        Mrs. Makowski took Mrs. Hatfield by the arm.

        “Let me show you my kitchen,” Mrs. Makowski said. The women walked through the garage into the space that will be the kitchen. The 2,000-square-foot ranch should be done after the first of the year.

        “It's going to be hard to have the holidays away from home,” Mrs. Hatfield said.

        And they're going to miss longtime neighbors who aren't coming back — particularly the Wallaces and the Whites.

        “We wish them well,” Mr. Makowski said. “Everybody's doing what they think is best for their families.”

        It was 5:17 a.m. April 9 when the tornado hit. It lasted 30 seconds. Six months have passed.

        “Seems like six years,” Mr. Bardes said.

        “It's like we've been on a six-month camping trip,” Mrs. Bardes said.

        “It's like you've lost a year out of your life,” Mr. Makowski said.

        “I can't wait to cook again,” Mrs. Makowski said.

        “I can't wait for her to cook again,” Mr. Makowski said. “Pat's a great cook.”

        “We just can't wait to get into our houses,” Mrs. Makowski said.

        It was dark. Another neighbor from the other side of the Johnson Nature Preserve drove up. Their headlights illuminated the group.

        “If we had to go through this without the community or our neighbors,” Mr. Bardes said, “I don't know if we would have made it.”

Tornado victims wait for repairs
Sirens installed after tornado
Tornado coverage at Cincinnati.com



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