The Columbus Dispatch
Friday October 13, 2006
Story By Matt Tullis
A warning came across the TV as Heather Irvine cleaned up after a taco dinner: Dangerous storms were on the way. Outside, tornado sirens blared, just as they had one week earlier in her Northeast Side neighborhood. Nothing had happened then, and Irvine figured nothing would happen now. Her husband, Steve had gone to visit a neighbor in their Upper Albany West neighborhood, but first had opened a window in the family room. He liked the breeze blowing through the house, especially on an unusually warm fall day such as that one Oct. 11. But the sound of the gusting wind alarmed Heather, so she went to shut the window. That’s when she saw dirt and mulch flying in circles outside. The wind growled louder and louder.
She slammed the window and ran for the bathroom under the stairs. A blast blew open the locked front door. On the second floor, in the master bedroom, the growling menace beat on the front wall so hard it pried nails from the house’s frame. The monster marched through and blew open the back door. It shattered a second-floor window. It tore cracks in the walls and ceilings. It hit the house so hard that the front wall on the second floor began to sag forward and came precariously close to toppling. Then, the unwelcoming visitor left as quickly as it had arrived.
Heather came out of the bathroom to find that the storm had stuffed mulch in the microwave. It dumped spices and tomatoes across the muddy kitchen floor. It picked up the garage as if it were made of matchsticks and destroyed it. Walls flying from the garage had smashed their two cars. Heather didn’t know where Steve was until she saw him sprinting across Treven Way, dodging debris. He looked like a madman, she thought. He had spent the brunt of the storm, all 60 seconds of it, in a closet across the street and then rushed home to make sure Heather was safe. They frantically searched the house for Gus the cat and found him unharmed under the dining-room table. Then they hunkered down, in a closet for another 15 minutes, afraid the tornado might blow back through. Neither saw the tornado. Neither was hurt. Their new home of barely one year, however, was wrecked. In the master bedroom, the growing menace beat on the front wall so hard it pried nails from the house’s frame. A dream derailed After two years of apartment living, Steve, 33 and Heather, 36, bought a home in the Upper Albany West subdivision for $172,086. The M/I Homes subdivision was close to both their jobs; Steve is a chiropractor with an office on Sunbury Road, and Heather is a receptionist for Schottenstein Real Estate Group. Upper Albany West sprouted from an old farm field just north of Central College Road about two years ago and has been attracting young couples and families ever since. The homes sit on small plots with saplings and shiny black mailboxes at the curb. Each home has a two-car garage in the back. Patios and privacy fences line narrow alleys that lead to driveways. There’s a clubhouse and swimming pool, where the Irvines often joined their neighbors in the summer for cookouts and swimming.
At 1,680 square feet, the three-bed-room, two-bath home was plenty big for the family the Irvines want to start. One year later, the couple was standing amid twisted patio furniture and pieces of vinyl siding as an engineer from Columbus’ structural emergency response team condemned their home.
Stress: his and hers
It’s 3 a.m., two days after the tornado, and Heather is awake and crying. She and Steve are at her mother’s home in Hilliard. Both families have offered support, including a place to stay until they move into a temporary home in two days. Her crying awakens Steve, who asks what’s wrong. Northing, she says. Everything just came to a head – what happened to their house, what might have happened to them, and the many headaches they’re bound to face as they repair their home. She just needed to cry.
Steve rolls over and goes back to sleep. He had already dealt with the crisis the best he knew how, by not thinking about it and moving on. For Steve, who went to work the day after the tornado, this was just a minor inconvenience.
Sixty-seven homes in Upper Albany West were damaged. Eighteen had structural damage totaling more than $1.5 million, according to the building permits repair companies took out. Two homes would have to be demolished and rebuilt, including that of Kyleigh Krause, her fiancé Brian Bishop and their children. They had been in their new home all of nine days when the tornado hit. Now living in an apartment, they plan to move into their rebuilt home sometime in March. The Irvines’ home, garage included, sustained more than $60,000 in damage. Their cars, Steve’s 2000 Chevrolet Mailbu and Heather’s 1997 Olsdmobile 88, were totaled. Items in the garage, valued at more than $4,000, were destroyed or blown away. Work was supposed to start just after Thanksgiving, but it didn’t. The master bedroom was gutted and the carpet ripped out throughout the house, but that was it. Outside, new homes were rising from concrete slabs. These had permits to start building long before the storm hit.
Repairing homes involves a more cumbersome process that includes engineer’s reports, city inspections, plan approval and permit applications. Despite the city’s promise to expedite permits for the subdivision, it seems for many as if work would never begin.
It’s Dec. 12, two months after the tornado, and Steve Irvine gets a phone call from a neighbor. During the storm, the roof from a model home went airborne and crashed into the bedroom of Steve Mergen’s own Treven Way home. Fortunately, Megen was at work. The two got to know each other better after the tornado, and like so many people in the neighborhood, had exchanged cell phone numbers. Mergen figures Steve would like to know that a crew was finally working on his house. Steve drives out after lunch and stands on a stoop across the street from his own home, listening to the thwap of hammers driving nails into plywood. A new garage is going up. The windows on the second floor have been taken out, and a ladder reaches up to a blue tarp covering what was once the roof. Ken Neverman, owner of Neverman Construction, had told him the second floor at the front of the house must be torn down and reframed. A large section of roof also has to be replaced. It’s nice to see work start, Steve says.
The next night, he walks into the temporary home in the nearby Upper Albany subdivision. He can’t find the light switch and in the dark feels his way along the wall through the dining room. He has just returned from his real home, where he had hoped to find the second floor enclosed. There was a new frame, but no walls or windows. He doesn’t like the temporary home. The family room is upstairs instead of on the first level. The cabinets open backward. The house faces north-south and lets in little natural light. He and Heather have started calling it The Cave. “I feel like I need Zoloft just living here,” he said, referring to the anti-depressant.
In many ways, the temporary home is superior to their own. It’s bigger. It doesn’t share a wall with the next-door neighbor, and the garage is attached. But it has one drawback. “The house is wonderful,” Heather said, “but it’s not ours.”
They’re leaving to go to Sofa Express to order a new couch. Their old one is covered with mysterious oil stains after the tornado. It’s late on a weeknight, and they will venture to Easton at the peak of the Christmas shopping season. “I want this to be done,” he said. For the most part, Steve and Heather concede that the rebuilding process has been smooth. Hassles avoided for the most part, Steve and Heather concede that the rebuilding process has been smooth. They’ve had no problems with Neverman Construction, and they’re considering filming a testimonial commercial for Motorists Insurance. But there have been little fights, like the time Heather wanted to use some insurance money to buy new picture frames and Steve thought they weren’t necessary. And there’s the issue with the $63,923.10 worth of checks from Motorists. Heather and Steve had to forward the checks to Wells-Fargo, their mortgage holder, which would distribute the money back to the Irvines in thirds to pay for repairs. They debated for a half hour whether to send the checks by certified mail. Steve said yes. Heather sent them first class instead, and spent the next two weeks calling Wells-Fargo to make sure they arrived. They hadn’t. So she calls Motorists and has new checks issued and the old checks canceled. She doesn’t tell Steve. She doesn’t want to hear “I told you so.” She almost pulls it off, until she realizes he also has to endorse the checks.
On Jan. 11 the Irvines get the news they’ve been waiting for the past three months. They will be able to move back into their house on Feb. 3. Heather calls and schedules the movers. They stop by the house that day to check the paint samples they had chosen. Most of the home’s walls will be a light brown called Portobello, as in the mushroom. A bedroom was painted cucumber green so it could one day be serve as a nursery, but the color is so bright Steve and Heather plan to repaint it butter yellow. Overall, they are incredibly lucky. They lost nothing of emotional value. The closest they came was Steve’s mangled Paramount Schwinn mountain bike, purchased for $800 in 1994 with money he earned as a painter and the Oldsmobile that Heathers grandfather drove before he passed away. There are psychological impacts, though.
They won’t eat tacos again on Wednesday nights. And both dread the first time warning sirens blare in the spring. (under top picture) Johnny Grimmet of Neverman Construction removes part of the front wall of Steve and Heather Irvine’s home. The neighboring home lost only a few strips of siding. (under small picture) A city inspector posted this sign on the front door of the Irvines’ home. (under tall picture) The Irvine home is the right half (as seen here from the rear) of the structure at the bottom center of this photo, shot the day after the tornado. The picture was taken to show the path of destruction. (under picture with xmas tree) Steve and Heather Irvine put the finishing touches on the Christmas tree in their temporary house. (under picture with Paul) Steve and Heather Irvine, right, visit their home on their lunch breaks to check on the progress of repairs and reconstruction. They’re talking with Paul Carroll of Neverman Construction Co.