By Lora Scripps
Residents of a neighborhood in Tanner where two lives were lost, countless homes were destroyed and the landscape forever changed will come together Saturday as they take time to remember, share and celebrate recovery.
Sherry and Steve Sims, homeowners on Winfred Drive off Rosie Road, will hold a rebuilding block party at 6 p.m. Saturday at their home.
Residents of Tremont subdivision in eastern Limestone County plan to hold a similar party at 5 p.m. today. Nearly every home in Tremont, off Capshaw Road, sustained damage from the EF5 tornado that struck April 27, 2011, and residents want to celebrate the fact that most of the homes have been rebuilt.
That dark day
Sherry Sims remembers all too well that dark day a year ago. She had been in her home in Tanner preparing to host a birthday party for her mother.
“I had cleaned all the ceiling fans, every lamp shade, the floor and we were finishing the sunroom,” she said. “Everyone kept calling me and said, ‘There’s a storm coming.’ And I kept telling them, ‘You are worrying me. Quit worrying me. I’m cleaning house.’”
It wasn’t long before her stepdaughter was at her home and said, “Come on, we are going to the storm shelter.”
Sherry, who admits she doesn’t like closed-in places, said she headed out the door to the shelter.
“We were out there 15 minutes when it hit,” she said.
Those in the shelter emerged to what looked like a war zone. “We came out and Steve’s shed was gone, my shed was gone, and the house was still standing,” Sherry said. “I said, ‘Why is the house standing? Why?’” Sherry said, although her house did sustain damage, after looking around at the devastation, she felt guilty. “It was just awful.”
It wasn’t long before Sherry was helping others in the community.
“People came from everywhere to get in the shelter,” Sherry said. “They said they didn’t have anything left.”
Sherry ran inside the house to grab anything of use — clothes, shoes, sweatshirts. “I gave them (survivors) anything they wanted,” she said. At one point up to 18 people were in the Sims’ tiny shelter.
The community was in shambles.
“You can’t believe what you see,” Sherry said. “But to live it. I felt like I was in a third world country. I’ll never forget how I felt.”
It was later that Sherry and others would discover that the tornado had taken the lives of two of their neighbors. Glen and Janice Riddle, who died protecting their three grandchildren, lived about an eighth of a mile from the Sims as the crow flies.
“I was in shock,” Sherry said.
She vividly recalls the sound of chainsaws, the smell of pine from broken tree branches and of smoke from burning debris.
A year later
Today, signs of recovery are seen on every corner as neighbors rebuild homes. “It was beautiful here,” Sherry said. “We had 28 trees. Now, we have half a dogwood.”
The remaining trees have leaves again and they are standing better than they were, she said pointing to the tree line behind her home.
“It looks better. Everyone has worked so hard.”
“I thought as bad as all this was, something good can come out,” Sherry said. “It’s the one-year anniversary. We’ve got to have a one-year party — a show of rebuilding. We have all worked so, so hard.”
The rebuilding block party for residents includes children’s activities such as inflatables and face painting, live music by J.D. and the Bad Boys, and barbecue.
The event will also include a picture table where residents can share where the rebuilding process started as night fell on Limestone County April 27, 2011, to where they are today.
A memorial service for Glen and Janice Riddle will take place at 8 p.m.
“I have met so many great people,” she said. “If this had to happen, I have met people that were so kind and so helpful and so thoughtful. It was amazing. They just came. They just appeared.”
For seven days, Sherry went door-to-door inviting neighbors to her home for the Saturday party. “I went every night at 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.,” she said. “I met everybody all around even over to the TVA line. I thought it was only appropriate to go to where it landed or started and swept through. So, we visited everybody.”
Neighbors from Bridgeforth, Ingram, Stewart and Rosie roads as well as Winfred Drive and areas in between were invited to attend.
“I hope it doesn’t rain, but we have two big tents coming,” Sherry said.
Everybody seemed excited, she said. “A lot of people would say we wanted to do something, but didn’t know what.”
“I think it’s the least we can do,” she said. “It takes time, but we are better than we were.”