Family struggles to recover

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 12, 2004

Randy Hamilton’s family no longer considers him as just father and husband. After an early morning tragedy the day before Thanksgiving, he is now their hero.

Shortly before 5 a.m. on Nov. 24 the Hamilton family-Randy, wife Debra, son Randall and daughter Farrin-were asleep in their mobile home in the Valley Grande area when Randy suddenly awoke with a start.

“Something woke him up, but the rest of us didn’t hear anything,” Debra said. “He ran into our daughter’s room and the TV was on the weather channel. On the screen was an image of a tornado right on top of us.”

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Randy went through the house waking up his family and getting them out of the trailer. The four of them got into their truck and drove to a nearby neighbor’s storm shelter, where other families were also taking refuge.

“It hit just has we got inside the storm shelter,” Debra said. “There was a loud noise, like a train.”

After a new moments the storm died down and all was quiet expect for heavy rain. Everyone in the storm shelter looked outside and saw downed trees and power lines.

The men in the group took some two-way radios and decided to go see if there was any damage to their homes. They had to drive carefully because trees and power lines were down, blocking off sections of the highway.

“After awhile, I heard someone over the radio say something like ‘the Hamilton’s trailer is gone’,” Debra said. “I took off in the jeep and went back to the house. I could see it as I was driving up. It looked as if (the tornado) went down a straight line through our property. My whole life was gone.”

Once the initial shock subsided, it was time for the clean up to begin.

The Hamilton’s neighbors and other nearby Dallas County residents came out in droves to help the family put the pieces of their lives back together.

“People I didn’t even know came to help,” Debra said. “The first thing they went looking for was my family pictures.”

Not only did helpers manage to recover a few family photos, they also found undamaged furniture and other personal items.

“I was so overwhelmed by so many people-most of whom I didn’t even know-who helped,” Debra said. “Lots of people came by offering us things.”

Debra’s employer, UAB Selma Family Medicine, gave the family a place to say for a couple of days.

Randy and Farrin’s schools-Dallas County High and Martin Middle-raised money for them to purchase new clothes.

The American Red Cross of the Black Belt offered the Hamilton’s vouchers for clothing and food. The non-profit organization also paid the family’s first-month rent once they found a new mobile home to live in until they can get back on their feet.

Jeanette Crusoe, executive director of the local Red Cross, said the organization helped some 16 Dallas County families after the tornado.

“We helped as many people as we could,” Crusoe said. “We gave out vouchers for clothing, food, a place to stay for a few nights, or vouchers for storage facilities.”

Crusoe added that she was touched at seeing Dallas County residents come together in a time of tragedy.

“Everybody was just so appreciative and wonderful. It was so wonderful to see neighbors help each other,” she said.

The Hamilton’s say the tragedy had brought them closer together and made them feel very fortunate to be alive.

“My husband saved our lives,” Debra said. “We lost a lot, but we have our lives.”

Friends of the Hamilton’s, in an effort to ensure the family has at least some joy over the holidays, has established the Hamilton’s Tornado Fund at Southtrust Bank.

Donations can be made to this fund at any Southtrust Bank location.

“Now we are just trying to start over,” Debra said. “We really appreciate all those people who cared about us and offered us help. Now we are

trying to get a few normal surroundings for my children. My main focus is making them happy.”