Hemelt: Archbishop returns to bless home tornado destroyed
Published 12:03 am Saturday, October 15, 2016
Susan St. Pierre jokes that after nearly two decades of marriage, she’s not always quick to listen to everything her husband, Dale, has to say.
“Usually, whatever Dale tells me to do, I don’t do,” she told me when we talked this week. “You know, wives don’t listen to their husbands, but that day I listened to him. He just said to us, ‘everybody, get in the hallway. Lie down.’ After we lied down, the tornado was in my house.”
Susan was reliving the moments of Feb. 23, when her family and her LaPlace home were ground zero for a rampaging tornado.
An F1 tornado ripped through St. John the Baptist Parish, damaging more than 300 homes and 50 businesses through winds that exceeded 130 mph.
Located in the path was Susan and Dale’s home on East Frisco Drive. The couple, who have been married for 19 years, was at home at approximately 4:30 p.m. with their daughters, Shelbi and Sara, along with Dale’s mother.
They were all sitting in the living room when the lights started flickering off and on. After about the fifth time, Dale decided to get up and walk to the sunroom.
“As he was walking to the sunroom, one of the windows flew to the other side of the room and he saw the tornado in the back yard,” Susan said. “So he turned around and that is when the kitchen window was pulsating. When he saw that, he told us, ‘everybody in the hallway.’ By the time we hit the hallway, the tornado was in my home.”
Despite the mid-afternoon time, Susan said her family was quickly enveloped in complete darkness.
The family huddled together and saw Shelbi’s bedroom door, watching as household items and debris flew over their heads and ricocheted against the door.
Susan estimates the event lasted, maybe, 15 seconds but felt like an eternity.
Their neighbors were quickly at their front door, pointing out the home was missing its roof.
“Instead of turning around and seeing the damage, we walked outside and saw that half my house was destroyed,” Susan said.
The tornado destroyed the one story home’s garage, kitchen, living room and sunroom, leaving the rest in tattered ruins. One place that held up was the hallway, where the family huddled together for safety.
“We were in shock for a long time,” Susan said. “We kept asking ourselves, ‘how did we survive this?’”
In the days that followed, Knights of Columbus Council #9623 members set up shop at the Ascension of Our Lord parking lot, cooking food for as many tornado victims as possible.
Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond came by to check on the progress and review the devastation.
Susan heard he was there and asked if he would like to see her pummeled home. He agreed, and the two walked to survey the damage.
“When my house was finished (being rebuilt), I thought it was very appropriate to email and ask him to come and bless my home,” Susan said. “He graciously accepted.”
Archbishop Aymond returned to the home this month, joining family members and St. Charles Catholic students who were helpful with the cleanup after the tornado.
They all participated in a house blessing Oct. 2.
Rebuilt and standing strong in the same location, Susan said she, her husband and daughters know how special it is to simply enjoy each other’s healthy company.
If only for a few seconds hesitation or ducking to the wrong spot, things could have turned out much differently last February.
“We felt devastated, we felt in despair after all of this happened,” Susan said. “We’re just thankful we have a house and we got to rebuild. We’re thankful we had insurance.”
Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or firstname.lastname@example.org.