By Adam Smith
As a monster tornado ripped across East Limestone County on April 27, members of the Harbin family were hunkered down in their home on Old Banford Street off Capshaw Road.
The violent storm cut through the family’s property, taking everything from Bobby Harbin, his wife Barbara and their son Bobby Jr., and leaving the home in Treemont Subdivision a pile of rubble.
“We lost everything; it didn’t leave nothing,” Bobby Harbin said. “Nothing but the clothes on our backs.”
The massive oak trees that were in the family’s yard were toppled and landed on top of the house. Though the family escaped without major injury, Harbin said the impact of what they survived didn’t sink in until he emerged from the broken home.
“It was over so fast, we didn’t have time to be scared,” he said. “When we stopped and looked around and saw the damage it had done, now that was really scary. We were really, really lucky.”
The tornado may have destroyed the family’s home, but it did not destroy the Harbins’ drive to move on with their lives. On Monday, the family broke ground on a new home to be built on the same plot of land.
“We’re going to be back on the same spot,” Harbin said, adding that the 1974 tornado had missed his home by only 100 yards. “I’m not worried about rebuilding there.”
The new home is being made possible through Athens-Limestone Habitat for Humanity and United Way. The Harbin family also pitched in financially and worked on other HFH projects as part of the “sweat equity” required to receive a Habitat home.
Greg Miller, executive director of the local HFH said the family submitted an application for a new home not long after the tornado event. It normally takes a year between submitting an application and completing a Habitat home, but Miller said the project was expedited through financial help from the United Way’s Long-Term Recovery Committee.
“A lot of the waiting is usually scrounging the money to be able to build (a house),” he said. “The United Way really helped us out with this.”
Miller said the home would be a three-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot home, which are the typical dimensions of a Habitat home. There will be nothing typical about the Harbins’ new home, however. The walls will be constructed using ICF, or insulated concrete forms, and it will feature a safe room shelter in the garage.
“Basically, this will be a very wind-proof and insulated house,” he said. “It will be able to take winds of up to 225 miles per hour.”
When asked when work would begin on the Harbins’ new home, Miller said, “Immediately.” The homebuilding project will also be aided next week by visiting students from Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio. The week after that, students from Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky., will be down to assist.
Kaye Young McFarlen, executive director of the Athens-Limestone United Way, said the Harbins will be the first tornado-affected family to receive a new home, but many other families have been helped by the agency since the tornadoes.
She said the recovery committee worked to find long-term housing for some families that suffered damage, while the group also funded home repairs for other families. Funds came from local and corporate donations and from the proceeds from a golf tournament held after the storms.
The Harbins also contributed financially to the cost of the $50,000 home through using a grant from FEMA and insurance money.
“I’m really excited about the Harbins’ progress,” McFarlen said. “I like when a family has a plan that they’re a major participant in. They’ve put in their own resources, sweat equity with Habitat and they’re going to get a really safe, neat home.”