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Published: Monday, 10/25/2010

Tornado-ravaged family eager to start over in new home

BY CLAUDIA
BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MILLBURY, Ohio - Main Street in Millbury has a new look.

Gone are the shattered rows of blown-out homes, torn-off roofs, and debris-strewn yards that became tragic icons of the summer's tornadoes.

In their place sit gleaming new houses: buildings either fully restored or in the advanced stages of reconstruction. The sights and sounds of ongoing work remain, but signs indicate the neighborhood - and the neighbors - are getting back on their feet.

Amid the progress stands the soon-to-be home of the Swartz family. The one-story house is not yet finished: It needs paint, floors, bathroom fixtures, and other inside essentials.

"We're here every day. We can't stand not seeing it," said Beth Swartz as she visited the new house in her wheelchair, dodging planks of wood, paint pots, and other implements waiting to be assigned a use.

"I think we feel rejuvenated every time we come here," said her husband, Scott Swartz.

Mr. and Mrs. Swartz and their 13-year-old son, Byron, have watched over five months as the hole in the ground that once was their house has been transformed into a livable space.

The family's previous house, and almost all their possessions, were destroyed in the June 5 tornado. Now the Swartzes count the days until the scheduled Nov. 15 completion date.

Despite the easy-to-see progress, the wait hasn't been easy.

"If they were to finish tomorrow, we'd be saying: 'Hey, why didn't you get it done yesterday?'•" Mr. Swartz said. "Somebody go get me a time machine."

Every day, the family, in temporary Oregon housing, shuttles to and from Millbury. They watch the progress and catch up with neighbors. On the weekends, the Swartzes shop for the future as they pick out furniture, blinds, and other household items.

The constant back-and-forth has tired them, and their meals are frequently fast-food stop-offs.

"I'm looking forward just to coming back to something that's ours," Mrs. Swartz said. "We're ready to fix a meal in our own house. Just to be here and not have to leave."

Unlike the home destroyed in the tornado, the new home is on one floor and is wheelchair-accessible, to accommodate Mrs. Swartz, who has multiple sclerosis.   Unlike the home destroyed in the tornado, the new home is on one floor and is wheelchair-accessible, to accommodate Mrs. Swartz, who has multiple sclerosis.
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The new, ranch-style house is different from the Swartzes' former two-story home. The family wanted it that way, to avoid constant reminders of the storm and also because the new design is a better fit for Mrs. Swartz. She learned she had multiple sclerosis eight years ago, after they moved into the old house, and now uses a wheelchair.

The new house has four bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, a big living room, kitchen, sunroom, patio, and airy, cathedral-like ceilings. Each entrance is fitted with ramps that help Mrs. Swartz maneuver in and out, and the halls, doorways, and shower are built wide to allow wheelchair access.

Some of these special accommodations mean there is less room for closet space and other features, but that doesn't concern the Swartzes.

"We don't have that much stuff anyway," said Byron, shrugging.

Perhaps the most important part of the new house is the basement. That's the part of the old house where they took shelter the night of June 5, and their survival probably is because of it. The new basement is much bigger than the old one.

"We said, 'We know the chance is slim,' " Mr. Swartz said. " 'But we are having a basement.' "

As the Swartzes' excitement grows and their move-in date approaches, the family acknowledges their home, and their neighborhood, never will be quite the same.

The house is different, and when they look out their front door, the neighbors' houses have changed, too. And neighbors Mary and Ryan Walters perished in the storm with their 4-year-old son, Hayden. They will never return.

At the back of their new house, Mr. Swartz stared wistfully out at a thin line of trees, once dense woodland. On some of the branches, fabric caught in the trees blew eerily in the wind.

"This time of year, it should be beautiful out there. The colors were so vibrant. It's not the same," Mr. Swartz said. "It's humbling when you look and you think about how it used to be."

Still, the Swartzes say they feel lucky they soon will have a house again, and they're grateful to have covered their financial losses through insurance. The turmoil and heartache of the last few months also has brought them closer to their neighbors.

They describe them as family.

Beth, Scott, and Byron Swartz, currently in temporary quarters in Oregon, stop by their new home daily to check on progress there. The scheduled completion date is Nov. 15. Beth, Scott, and Byron Swartz, currently in temporary quarters in Oregon, stop by their new home daily to check on progress there. The scheduled completion date is Nov. 15.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The emotional scars will take time to heal, the Swartzes say. Sometimes, when they look out the back window at the thinned trees, especially after dark, the family can't help but feel fear remembering the night the tornado struck.

"But then you turn around and you look at the house and you think about all the good things," Mr. Swartz said. "You kinda hit the play button on life again. … It's been on pause for a while."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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