West Liberty —
I made several trips to West Liberty to cover the aftermath of the EF3 tornado that reduced most of the town to rubble one year ago yesterday.
I talked to a lot of people, too, and one of the most memorable was a woman by the name of Sherri Granger.
I encountered her as I was walking through the rubble of the city’s downtown business district, watching shop owners pick through the remains of the stores that had been their livelihoods.
I asked several of them about their future plans; most told me they had no idea if they’d be able to reopen. But, with Granger, there was never any doubt.
A sign hung on the front of her shop, Red Rooster Antiques, stating defiantly: “The Rooster is Open.”
It wasn’t, of course. With the degree of damage the building had sustained, there was no way it could have been. But Granger said she put the sign up to let her customers know she wasn't going away.
I asked her if she would mind speaking to me, and she said she wouldn’t, with one caveat:
“When we reopen, you’ve got to come back and do a story about that,” she said. I promised her I would.
The rebuilt Red Rooster had its grand re-opening on Feb. 21, and, in so doing, became the first business to reestablish itself on West Liberty’s Main Street. Most of the wood and supplies for the new store were salvaged from other buildings that were leveled by the twister.
I caught up with Granger at Saturday's tornado remembrance ceremony at Morgan County High School. She told me the first three months after the tornado were spent sorting through the insurance red tape and that the actual rebuilding process began in June of last year with the razing of the back half of the building, which couldn’t be salvaged. The front half, though, was able to be saved, she said.
I asked Granger what business had been like since the reopening, and her response was peppered with words like “amazing” and “phenomenal.” She said the support she'd received from the community had been nothing less than overwhelming.
She also said she and her husband, Eddie, were hopeful Red Rooster’s recovery would inspire and encourage other business owners to rebuild. (She acknowledged, though, that she was more fortunate than many of them because she had good insurance.)
While Granger said thoughts of the tornado still enter her mind occasionally, she said the horrific images of the town in ruins are beginning to recede in her memory.
“When I see those pictures, I can hardly even remember it looking like that,” she said.
That’s a sure sign that a year after the worst disaster most of them will ever experience, Granger and the other residents of West Liberty and Morgan County are starting to put the experience in their collective rear-view mirror.
They remember, but they’re forging ahead, determined to not let the tragedy define them.
KENNETH HART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2654.