Mom works on mending family, self after tornado hitsWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: Toledo Free Press will follow the Blank family of Millbury for the next year as they rebuild their lives after a June 5 tornado destroyed their Main Street home.
For Julie Blank, the destruction and death caused by last month’s tornado has left her with an appropriately named condition.
The 48-year-old homemaker suffered permanent heart damage because of stress cardiomyopathy, also known as “broken heart syndrome.” The syndrome involves a condition where intense emotional or physical stress can cause rapid and severe heart muscle weakness.
The onset of the minor damage started when she returned to her property the day after the tornado. She felt like she was walking around in a daze. People were hugging her and asking where to put personal items they found in the debris. She just couldn’t find it in herself to start cleaning up.
“That is my stuff, that is my kitchen, that is what used to be my living room,” Julie said of what was running through her mind.
Julie said her house was always in order, so to see everything thrown everywhere weighed heavy on her heart. Then, she started to think about her neighbors, the Walters, and her heart broke.
“I couldn’t handle that my house and stuff was in a heap and that we had survived and they didn’t,” she said.
The reunion with her cat, Rippy, gave her a little bit of solace that day. He had been in the basement with the family, but when the water lines broke, they think he jumped into a cubby hole.
Julie thanks Mark Greenlese, her 15-year-old son’s friend, for saving her cat, who is named after basketball player Rip Hamilton. Mark was spending the night for Casey’s birthday.
“When I went upstairs to go to the bathroom, Julie was complaining about Rip going upstairs, so when I saw him, I grabbed him,” Mark said.
At the time, no one thought it would be dangerous for Mark to leave the basement, but soon after he took shelter again, the tornado bore down on the house.
When the family was evacuating the rubble, Julie didn’t see Rippy, but her efforts were focused elsewhere.
“I just thought I had to worry about human life,” Julie said.
But the next day, when a person at the scene said a cat had been found in a basement and taken to the humane society, Julie said, “Oh my God, it is mine.”
When she went to pick up Rippy, he was rumpled-looking and in shock.
For the first week, he would not come out of the basement in the house where she and her husband, Ed, and son are staying with the Bihn family.
Although Rippy might be ready to move home, the Blank’s house won’t be rebuilt until January at the earliest, according to Julie. They have met with the designers twice.
The house will once again be a two-story with a pool. But this time around, Julie’s kitchen is going to be more spacious. She always said if she had a chance to do it again, she would have a larger kitchen.
“We are cleaning the site and getting the basement and deck removed, which is basically junk. Ed and Julie are working with the architect on the blueprints,” said Mark Rigg of Rigg Restoration.
This is his first time rebuilding a house destroyed by a tornado. Some of the existing infrastructure like the gas and electric lines will be reused. With some repairs, the foundation will also be ready to go.
“We are going to push the house out by 10 feet and dig and put in a new section of the foundation,” Rigg said.
While he didn’t know the Blanks before the tornado, he is happy to help them rebuild their lives with the help of their insurance and whatever else they might want to add. After all, home is where the heart is.
“If we can make this part go seamless, they are going to end up with a well-built home,” he said, but “it is a tough way to go about getting a new house.”