Sitting at their new dining room table, on new hardwood floors under a whole new roof, Joe and Sherry Parks of Garwin reflected back on the past year and the journey it has been.
"It's been kind of a blur," Sherry said one year after the the July 11 storm that completely destroyed her Garwin home. "We just took everything in stride."
Now, on the anniversary of the storm that left central Iowa in shambles after knocking down trees, powerlines and destroying houses, almost everything the Parks family owns is brand new.
T-R PHOTO BY LUKE STALZER
Joe and Sherry Parks stand outside their new home one year after a wind storm hit central Iowa and left many in shambles. The couple was displaced for nearly five months and moved into the new home Christmas Eve 2011.
The couple has since slowly settled into their rebuilt home located just west of Garwin off of Highway T-47 and have since bounced back to reality after losing nearly everything they owned.
Joe, a location coordinator for Mid-Iowa Co-Op and volunteer Garwin firefighter, and Sherry, a physician assistant at Deer Creek Family Care in Toledo and volunteer Garwin EMT, were sound asleep that morning when their pagers went off warning them there was a storm in the area.
"Joe got up and went out to check the weather," Sherry said. "I got up and went and got the kids up and found out it was not very nice out."
Sherry and her two college-aged children, Jason and Chelsey, both students at the University of Northern Iowa, grabbed the family dog and took cover in the basement not thinking the unimaginable was about to happen.
"It was fine down there," Sherry said. "It was kind of loud, you could hear the wind, but we weren't scared. We were actually just sitting around having normal conversation."
As the family took cover, insulation from the home started flying around them and at that point, their perceptions of the storm changed.
"We looked up and could see outside from downstairs," Sherry said. "The whole roof was gone."
Joe and Jason made their way upstairs to grab wallets and purses and that's when Joe witnessed first-hand the extent of the damage and he couldn't believe his eyes.
"The north end was where our bedroom was and that was pretty much gone, and the garage was pretty well gone on the southside of the house," Joe said. "The roof was completely off it."
With no where to go after the storm had passed, the family went and got in one of the vehicles that was still in the garage and surveyed the damage in the area.
"We weren't exactly sure of all of the damage until daylight," Sherry said. "We didn't really think anything would happen, but we were completely wrong."
The calm after the storm
Joe and Sherry didn't hesitate cleanup efforts, and once it was light enough to see all of the damage, the couple and their two kids began shoveling insulation, saving what was savable - which turned out to be very little - and throwing out stuff that was hard to say goodbye to.
"It was all a little overwhelming," Sherry said. "We kind of just looked through everything, and you pick up something and say, 'do you save it or do you throw it?'"
Help came from all over when people quickly found out the family had completely lost their home. That, Sherry and Joe said, they are thankful for.
"Joe has nine brothers and sisters, and they were all here some time that first week," Sherry said. "Several friends helped, and the kids' college roommates even came back to help out. My parents and siblings live around here so they had their own messes to clean up, but most of the community was out here."
Joe and Sherry were able to salvage a majority of their kids' baby pictures because they were stored in the basement, but anything that was upstairs was pretty much gone.
"The biggest loss was all of our paperwork; that was everywhere," Sherry said.
The couple said it was difficult to let everything go, but the main thing is everyone was OK and no one was hurt, and Joe said that is what he stressed the whole time they were cleaning up after the storm.
"We were all OK, the house can be replaced. That was the attitude I had from the get-go," Joe said.
Luckily, the Parks family - who has lived at the same house for nearly 8 years - had insurance on the home that covered everything that was destroyed and put the family up in a home while a new house was being built on the same foundation.
"Our insurance agent, who is also a realtor, had this house and was able to rent it to us while our new home was being built," Sherry said. "The insurance company brought in anything and everything you would need in a home; they were really great."
The family stayed in the small home - which was quite a change from their 2,200 square foot house - until they moved back into their newly built house on Christmas Eve 2011.
"We were there just in time for Christmas," Sherry said. "It was great to be back home."
Sherry said that it finally seems like their lives are back to normal now after all of the change that has taken place in the past 12 months.
"In the beginning, we were just in survival mode," Sherry said. "You did what you had to do."
The couple said that the biggest thing that has changed in the past year, is their respect for Mother Nature and what she can do.
"We respect the weather a little more now," Joe said. "We used to stand on the porch and watch the thunderstorms come through, but not anymore."
Sherry and Joe said almost everything was affected in some way and the mess was beyond bearable, but they both stressed, what they said, was the most important part of the ordeal.
"We were all OK. That's all that matters," the couple said.