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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Rebuilding A Life: Garland Mom Loses Home In Tornado, Two Years After Losing Husband

Thorne Anderson
KERA news special contributor
Jennifer Anderson and her two boys, Jayden and Jordan, pray before eating in their hotel room.

KERA’s series One Crisis Away, Rebuilding A Life looks at four families left on the financial edge after December’s tornadoes. When the shelters close and the cameras disappear, recovery is only beginning.

Single mom Jenn Anderson had already rebuilt her life once. She picked up her two toddlers and moved to Garland shortly after her husband’s suicide in Las Vegas.

Two years later, the day after Christmas, the tornado hit.

When Jennifer Anderson ushers guests into the living room of her wrecked second floor apartment, she chuckles, calling it her “self-made patio.” Then she corrects herself.

“Or tornado-made patio,” she says. “That’s exactly what it is, you can see the nails are all still there where it just ripped the whole wall, along with the roof, off the building.”

See Jennifer Anderson and her boys navigate life from a hotel room in the video below.

A Wrecked Apartment

The back wall and living room ceiling are gone. Those brave enough to peek over the edge of the building will see a pile of shattered toys, sofa cushions and gnarled debris mashed into the grass below; even two months after the storm.

Even while wading through a sea of shattered possessions, Anderson is cheerful. Her apartment is toast-- she and the boys have spent two months in a hotel room where there’s not much in the way of a kitchen.

“I went into Walmart with my gift card and invested in a rice cooker, so a lot of my meals come from that,” she says. “Cook some rice, steam some veggies, steam some chicken.” 

Saving Money, Cutting Costs

That kind of frugal creativity is her mission right now. She had a $10,000 renter’s insurance policy when the storm hit. The problem is, when three people lose everything, 10 thousand bucks doesn’t stretch very far.

“You don’t realize how much every little single thing costs until you’re replacing it.”

For Jennifer Anderson, surviving a tornado is just the latest chapter in this story.

“My husband actually committed suicide just over two years ago. So we moved to Texas to re-group and start over,” she says. “I wanted to be close to home, but I wanted to be somewhere that I didn’t have a lot of memories.”

Check out photos of Jennifer Anderson and her two boys here.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.