According to the National Weather Service, the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak was the largest single-system tornado outbreak ever recorded. It was also the costliest and one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in history as well. Our reports last year on the tornado outbreaks was the number one story on GoHorseShow in 2011. During this trying time, the horse community also came together to help several families with supplies, money, and support.
With a little over a year after the massive tornados, GoHorseShow decided to check back with Kyle Hughes of Abingdon, Virginia, Donna Preskitt of 5W Ranch in Alabama, and the Ellis Family from Cleveland, Tennessee to see how they are doing a year after the storm. All of these families' homes, businesses, and barns were destroyed in several twisters that wrecked havoc across the country.
At the time of the tragedy, GoHorseShow set up a Chip In account where the horse industry helped raise over $8,000 that was split between the three families.
After doing a follow up interview with each family, GoHorseShow is happy to report that everyone is back in business and their homes and barns have been rebuilt. Donna Preskitt, the owner of 5W Ranch, which is known for running an underwater treadmill for horses, told us that she just had her grand reopening a few days ago. (Left--5W Barn after storm)
"We may be smaller, but we are fresh and new with some great upgrades to our facility," Preskitt says about her newly built 12 stall barn. "Over time we plan to add several more stalls but we have to live within our means at this point."
Originally, Preskitt had a 28 stall barn with a total of 54 horses on the premises the day the storm hit. Due to what she calls being "grossly underinsured", she had to go through some trying times and hurdles to get her place back up and running.
Donna explains in detail the devastation that happened that day.
"Luckily we were all able to get down into the underwater treadmill when the F5 tornado hit," she remembers. "There was debris flying everywhere and we thought the barn was on fire. After we came out and checked out everything, it was complete chaos. There were horses trapped and running around everywhere since all the fences and trees were pulled up on the property. We were in total shock but we had to very rapidly take charge of the situation." (Right--5W Ranch after the rebuild)
Donna credits her emergency plans and medications that she had stored in three separate places on her farm as crucial to helping save several of the horses. Of the 54 horses on the property, two horses were lost in the storm and two were put down later due to their injuries. According to Preskitt, she is thankful most horses were saved because it could have been a lot worse.
"Our life changed in an instant and everything I had worked for and was passionate about was destroyed, but the experience led me to put my faith back in people and their willingness to help in time of a tragedy. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me during this difficult time because it has made all the difference."
Another family that was greatly effected by these storms was the Hughes family of Abingdon, Virginia. Kyle, who is a halter horse trainer, says he was in complete shock when he saw the devastation to his barn and home after the storms. Also, four of his horses died due to their injuries. (Left--Hughes Barn after storm)
"It has been an ordeal getting the house and barn built back, but it is all finally finished," Hughes told GoHorseShow. "I'm now accepting outside horses and I moved back into the house in March."
Hughes says he loves his new 24 stall barn because the stalls are all down one big hallway. The barn also has a two bedroom apartment, tack room, office and a larger (100X60) indoor arena.
"One thing I learned from this ordeal is to not take for granted what you have because you might not have it for long," Hughes reflects. "I'm so thankful for the outpouring of help from everyone especially the horse show community. It does feel like we are a family and we are all in this together." (Far right--Hughes barn after rebuild)
The final family that we checked up on was The Ellis family of Cleveland, Tennessee. They lost their businesses, barn, home, and fences during the April storms. David (the father) had the foresight to build a storm shelter and that probably saved their lives. The family also lost a horse and a dog from their injuries. The parents, David and Cheri Ellis, whose three daughters, Maggie, Jillian and Sarah Jo show in the AQHA all-around events had their offices in their home so it took them awhile to get back up and running. Cheri is a photographer while her husband, David is a general contractor which did help speed up the process of getting their house rebuilt.
"The biggest thing when we assessed the damage was to know where to start," Cheri says. "It was all so overwhelming. Our house, part of our barn, our businesses, fences and our cars were all destroyed. When we got our bearings, we first decided we needed to get the house rebuilt as soon as possible." (Left-Ellis' home after storm)
The family first moved into their motor home and then finally a rental home while they rebuilt their house.
"It was amazing all the local people that immediately came and helped with cleaning out the debris," David states. "It really made us feel loved and supported when individuals we didn't even know came out to help us or donated money to help us get back on our feet."
Cheri adds, "I learned from this experience that people are incredibly giving, and compassionate and we all come together in a time of tragedy. We would like to thank everyone that helped us see the light at the end of the tunnel."