A month after the Georgia tornado, some families are still struggling

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Captain Chris Hodge, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, talks to Mike Fox as he sits surrounded by the remains of his home in the Park Place neighborhood of Ellabell, Ga. Fox and his wife Michelle were sheltering in their salon when the tornado ripped through their home on April 5, 2022 (Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News via AP)

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Nolan Driggers reached the front door, children in tow and his wife a step behind him.

The family of four were trying to leave their home in Ellabell and hit the interstate after hearing about a tornado that landed in Pembroke. Driggers didn’t realize he was only seconds away from his neighborhood when he received the notification.

Moments later, his house was upside down.

“We were at home and I was watching the weather,” Driggers said. “Everything was very calm in my house. So they said a tornado hit Pembroke. When I opened the back door to get out, I saw the tornado touching the top of my neighbor’s house. When it came over ours, I tried to pull a mattress over us. Our house started to turn two or three times. The whole time my wife was praying. We thought we weren’t going to make it.”

After the storm passed, he called everyone’s name, but there was one person who didn’t answer. At that moment, Driggers said he began to pray that his son was not dead.

“I couldn’t find my 3-year-old anywhere,” Driggers said. “I was trying to hold my two girls, but they slipped out of my hands. I found my 9 year old son but I couldn’t find my 3 year old son. There were a lot of stuffed animals and blankets lying around because of the tornado. Finally, I saw his feet and pulled her up. At first, she wasn’t saying anything. I started shaking her and asking if she was okay. Then she smiled and said, ‘I’m fine.’ When I saw her feet poking out from under all that, I started screaming at the top of my lungs.”

Amidst the chaos, Driggers didn’t realize he’d dislocated his shoulder. Furthermore, he suffered multiple cuts on his hip which led to a staph infection. “My leg got where I couldn’t walk on it. I thought I could handle this myself. Four or five days later, I was in the hospital.”

The family was given a camper to use temporarily, but at just 24 feet wide, they knew it wouldn’t be a comfortable space to live in in the long run. Driggers admitted he was frustrated with FEMA, saying he was under the impression they would provide assistance to those affected by the tornado.

“It’s my fault,” Driggers said. “We didn’t have home insurance. “We were waiting for FEMA to come in and then I found out that FEMA was not coming.”

But nearly a month to the day of the tornado, Bryan County Sheriff Mark Crowe, Marty and Cindy Daniel of Daniel Defense God’s Pit Crew and former NASCAR driver Jeb Burton have provided the family with a new, complete mobile home. with all new furniture.

“It’s amazing,” Driggers said. “I am very grateful for everyone’s support.”

OTHER FAMILIES STILL FIGHT TO FIND ASSISTANCE

But one family was not so lucky.

Yvonne Whitfield, whose home was destroyed in the Homestead subdivision in Ellabell, is in a battle with her insurance company over a clause she believes is being applied to her new policy, which won’t go into effect until June.

“What they are telling us is that they have a clause in my new policy that if the property is repaired they will pay living expenses for a reasonable period of time for us to live somewhere and they will pay for food and rent . and things like that,” Whitfield said.

“But if our house is a total loss, they’ll only pay for the first seven days after they cut the house check. Now that they’re cutting the housing check, I’m stuck dealing with all my additional expenses, plus the mortgage payment I have to keep making.

Whitfield said his insurance company only cited $42,000 in damages. Before the storm, Whitfield thought the insurance would cover most or all of his expenses. In all, she spent $10,000 and counting. “For a month now, we’ve been eating out and paying people.”

Whitfield added that she thinks other communities were placed before her when it came to the cleanup efforts. But she praised two groups that have advanced in style.

“I don’t think they did it on purpose, but I don’t think they realized how bad it was on our side,” Whitfield said. “But Pembroke Advanced Communications – they were amazing with their equipment, generosity and camaraderie. And Sam-Jay Landscaping was very helpful too. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have made it this far.”

For now, Whitfield is paying for her trailer and the mortgage on her destroyed home. She said it has been a painful process as she and her husband continue to shell out money to ensure they stay on top of their expenses.

“We pay insurance so you’re protected,” Whitfield said. “But you are not protected. They are protecting themselves. My neighbor who has a different insurance company is putting a new roof on his house. Their truck is being fixed. I didn’t get anywhere. We are already going through enough emotions and stress and trying to salvage things. There are things that are gone and you cannot replace them.”

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