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Out of the rubble

Ashlee, Olivia,1, JJ, 3, Grace, 4, and Tom Mahaffy in front of their new home in Atlas Township. (click for larger version)
October 16, 2013 - Atlas Twp.-The storm clouds have cleared, debris has been removed and a township family has a new start.

Less than five months after an F2 tornado leveled the Mahaffy family's Gale Road home, a new residence is nearing completion—a remarkable ending to a devastating story.

On May 28, according to a report from the National Weather Service, White Lake, six tornadoes touched down in southeast Michigan—with the one that touched down in Atlas rated an F2, with winds of 130 mph. The tornado's path was 300 yards wide, with a total length of 4.6 miles, from Vassar Road and Pointe North Drive to State Road near Perry Road. The most damage was done at the intersection of Gale and Hegel roads, where the Mahaffy home was located. The approximate time of the tornado touchdown was 9:54 p.m. Tornadoes also occurred in Fenton, Flint, and three in Shiawassee County, in the approximately 90 minutes leading up to the Atlas Township tornado.

The two-story home where Ashlee Mahaffy lived with her husband, Tom, and their three children, Grace, 4, J.J., 2, and 8-month-old baby Olivia, was a pile of rubble, with only half a staircase still standing, the remnants of a wall and a doorwall to a walk-out basement. Ashlee and the three children were in the basement of the home when the storm hit—they were uninjured.

"I was in the tornado shelter at the Flint Truck and Bus Plant in Flint," said Tom Mahaffy. "I got a text from my wife— 'we just were hit by a tornado— help. We are OK can't talk.' I had lived in Kansas for three years prior to moving back here and I kept thinking it was Michigan, how bad could it be? I had no idea what extent the damage was going to be—it was nighttime when it happened..I knew it was very bad. When I saw my house I was in shock—my house was gone, but I had no idea of the extent. I was in shock—I could not believe what I saw."

Ashlee and their children were in the back of a police squad car when Tom arrived.

"They were obviously upset," he said. "I grabbed my kids and hugged them. JJ was crying. He said to me, 'My hair got wet.'"

Tom said Olivia was too young to remember the events of May 28, but JJ and Grace are still shaken by storms even now.

"The kids want to come sleep with us when storms hit. But after all that, Grace wants to be Dorothy from 'The Wizard of Oz' this Halloween—so she's better. You have to laugh."

The Mahaffys have been living in a Grand Blanc rental since the tornado.

"After the storm the support from all the communities—Davison, Brandon, Goodrich— was just unbelievable," he said.

"I'm from Ortonville, but we had just moved back to Michigan from Missouri in April when we bought our home on Gale Road. The day after the storm we had volunteers helping us, toys for the kids, handwritten notes from students in Goodrich Schools—it really touched us all. Total strangers would drop items off that were carried by the storm for miles. Some people that found our clothes even had them dry cleaned for us."

Following the storm, items from the Mahaffy home were recovered on Dutch Road, about a mile away. Residents recovered family pictures and other personal items.

"You often hear bad stories about looting or crime following a storm like that," he said. "But this really restored my faith in the community, and people, for that matter. I wish I could thank everyone."

"We're excited to move back in our home and meet the people in the area that helped," he said. "If I could give any advice, it would be take shelter when you hear the sirens. I never dreamed this would happen to us, but it did. Just thank the Lord the kids and my wife were in the basement."

T om said the response from State Farm Insurance Company was outstanding.

"Our agent Jeff Felix was on the job and provided just what we needed," he said. "He made all the difference during such a chaotic time—your head is just spinning, you really don't know what to do."

Felix, owner of State Farm Insurance of Ortonville, has been in the industry for about 15 years and an agent for five years.

"State Farm received the call from the Mahaffys and were able to get a check in their hands for immediate needs, since they lost everything," he said. "We visited the site and started evaluating the loss. At those times we sit down with families away from what's left of their home and evaluate basic needs first. We went to Cranberries Cafe in Goodrich for lunch and started the process of rebuilding right then."

Felix has experience with such natural disasters.

"I've been able to work with victims after hurricanes in Florida and Katrina in the Gulf states too—taking care of needs such as clothes, food and shelter right away is key since they lost everything. It's the feeling when you come home and nothing is left— everything you've ever owned is scattered all over the community. It's the same everywhere— homeowners just standing there on their property with years and years of memories just gone over the countryside."

"After a disaster, you just don't know what to do next," he added. "The homeowner is just overwhelmed—where do we live? What are we going to eat? Their biggest investment, their home, is just gone. People also don't know how insurance works. The majority of the time they have not had this experience before. They need to know this is going to get taken care of soon."

Felix said the costs add up fast.

"Every single item that you have at home adds up," he said. "If it's an older item we purchase a new one for the homeowner."

Felix said that too many times people make the mistake of purchasing a policy on price—they don't take the time to go over every single detail of the coverages.

"I have to make sure they are covered adequately," he said. "It will cost them a lot more money in the long run if it's not in place."

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