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

Tornado Survivors Talk Hurricane Harvey: Moving On Financially And Emotionally

Courtney Collins
KERA news
Alfredo and Anthony Fowler-Rainone in their newly rebuilt kitchen in Rowlett.

Folks who know firsthand how devastating a natural disaster can be, have a unique take on Hurricane Harvey, and what's ahead for survivors.

When tornadoes ripped through North Texas the day after Christmas in 2015, hundreds of families had to completely rebuild their lives. This kind of financial disruption can take years to sort out.

Settled in

The two-story brick house in Rowlett looks brand new, and it practically is. The rebuild was finished just shy of a year ago. And the family that lives there is right at home.

Three excited dogs chase each other, greet houseguests, and jockey for position in their owners' laps. Alfredo Fowler-Rainone doesn't mind. When asked what got him through the 2015 tornado, he doesn't hesitate.

"Probably the dogs. I mean dogs couldn't take care of themselves and I wasn't getting rid of them. So it was like, the dogs were my babies,” he says. “So I had to do what I had to do for them."

Alfredo's husband Anthony feels the same way. In the aftermath of the tornado that ripped their house apart, he just wanted to fix things.

"I am an alpha in my attitude, so as long as I had someone I had to take care of, I had things I had to do, that kept me going,” he says.

And once the water recedes, people dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey will have lots to do as well. 

Claim it, and quickly

Alfredo and Anthony said it worked best for them to divide up responsibilities. Anthony handled the insurance claim.

"Get your insurance claim in as quickly as you can. Because they have to start assigning people and the later you are, the longer it's going to take,” he says.

Experts agree.

"The first person who makes the phone call to their insurance company might be the first person to may end up being the first person to get that check,” says Matt Schulz, industry analyst at “And that's a really important thing."

Another quick move Alfredo and Anthony made was getting registered for disaster relief.

"Get yourself signed up with FEMA and Red Cross, and things like that as quick as you can,” says Anthony.

That’s advice echoed by FEMA administrator Brock Long.

"The first step to do if you reside in one of those 18 counties under the individual assistance disaster declaration that the President swiftly approved for the governor, start to register now,” he says.

Check your policy

After the tornado, Alfredo and Anthony carefully checked their insurance policy to see how long they had to replace things that were destroyed, and whether there was a time limit or money cap on living expenses while they were displaced-- they think everyone should do that.

Alfredo also recommends finding someone trustworthy to head-up the rebuild.

"The biggest thing I'd say is don't jump with the first contractor. I mean, we almost did, and trust me. We would have regretted it,” he says.

Repairing and rebuilding might seem a long way off to victims of Hurricane Harvey. Analyst Matt Schulz says, for those who need financial help in the short term, banks and lenders will often work something out.

"Whether it's something as simple as waiving a late fee or in more extreme cases, getting a forbearance where you can postpone payment, that sort of thing,” he says. “Make those phone calls and talk to those people."

Bringing it all back

Single mom Jennifer Anderson lost her apartment in the 2015 tornadoes. She says watching non-stop news coverage of storm-wrecked Houston brings it all back, and breaks her heart.

"Even after going through a devastating storm myself, it's still hard seeing all those people hanging on for dear life and being surrounded by all that water,” she says.

And while it might be hard to reach for gratitude now, Anderson says it helps to remember that not everyone made it through the storm. Not everyone has a life to rebuild.

"Remember to be thankful that you survived. That's a lot to go through, and it's hard parting ways with things that mean so much to you, but life is so much more precious,” she says.

Anderson knows what the people who've been hurt by Hurricane Harvey are facing. More than anything, she wants them to know while the path ahead is long-- the support of friends and family make the walk a lot less lonely.

Alfredo and Anthony Fowler-Rainone and Jennifer Anderson were featured in KERA's series One Crisis Away: Rebuilding A Life.

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.