Orlando – Losing a home to a tornado is traumatic no matter when it happens, but when it happens during the middle of a pandemic, it’s unthinkable.
That’s the kind of trauma Stephanie Hardigan said her brother and sister-in-law went through in June 2020 when an EF1 tornado tore through neighborhoods north of Lake Conway.
“This is the type of thing that you see in movies,” said Hardigan. “I’ve never ever experienced anything like this. I mean, I know we go through hurricane season, but that was nothing.”
Officials say it started out as a waterspout then moved onto land.
“Me and my husband were in our home, and we heard the transformers explode. We thought it was gunshots but it was really weird because our neighborhood is pretty safe,” said Hardigan. “I opened the door because I heard my neighbor screaming to the top of her lungs that she was in danger. But as soon as I open the door, I look up, and I see this cone-shaped cloud coming towards us.”
Hardigan said she saw debris filling the sky and then spotted the tornado.
“My husband didn’t believe it. He tried to go out and see for himself and I was able to grab him, pull him out of the wind,” she said, adding it took both of them to shut the door because of the strong winds.
“We grabbed our dog and went into shelter,” Hardigan said.
When it was all over, Hardigan said she was stunned to find out there was no damage to their home.
“I felt like God put a dome over us. Because we were the only house that absolutely nothing happened,” she said. “No power loss, nothing. Not a leak, not a hole, not a crack in the ground.”
But her brother and sister-in-law weren’t so lucky.
“Once we got there, we saw the roof. The roof was gone,” said Hardigan. “Their whole patio had come apart. So all of the debris had fallen in there, the front as well. And since the roof caved in, there were a bunch of bricks in there so they couldn’t get out, those are really so heavy. So they had to climb through that.”
Luckily, neither resident inside were injured.
“Thank God they did not get hurt. They were completely fine. But they did lose everything,” said Hardigan. “They were a newly married couple, their first apartment together. They worked so hard for everything that they put into their home. And for that to be gone in a matter of seconds, it was really heartbreaking.”
Hardigan started a GoFundMe to help get them back on their feet.
“God protects us all. But that day, I feel like he protected us a little bit more. So I felt like we needed to give back,” she said. “My idea was just for them to be able to pick themselves up, just because they’re out of a job they’re out of, you know, they lost a lot of things.”
Hardigan said it’s just something you do for people who need help. With the help of the community, they were able to raise more than $7,000 for the couple.
“If we see somebody in need, we go out and help them out without expecting anything in return. So I feel like that’s what I did,” Hardigan said.
As for her brother and sister-in-law, they are grateful to everyone who helped them recover.
“Since coronavirus is dying down a little bit more now, they were able to get back to a job. And they’re actually expecting their first child now. So that’s very good news,” Hardigan said.