Monday, May 17, 1999

Tornado forces choice: Rebuild or relocate?


Some victims choose to move

BY MARK CURNUTTE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[arshonskys]
Steve and Laurie Arshonsky won't rebuild on their lot on Valleystream Road.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        From the time the April 9 tornado swept away most of their Montgomery home, Gene and Pat Makowski knew they would rebuild there. Their next-door neighbors on Valleystream Drive, Steven and Laurie Arshonsky, knew almost as quickly that they would sell their lot.

        Their decisions were without uncertainty but not without pain.

        “It's sad. I'll miss the people who move,” Pat Makowski said of her neighbors. “You go through a lot of weddings together, through a lot of births, a lot of graduations.”

        The violent storm that swept through the Tristate that Friday morning scattered more than bricks and belongings. The tornado is now prematurely scattering neighbors. Many homeowners will rebuild, but some won't. They're leaving long before they thought they would.

        The decisions being made on Valleystream Drive, a single-block street of six houses, are similar to decisions being made in tornado-damaged areas throughout the Tristate.

[damaged houses]
Valleystream Road a few hours after the tornado. The Arshonsky house is on the right.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Parents in their late 50s and early 60s with grown children wonder whether they should build two-story, four-bedroom homes like the ones they lost.

        Homeowners with school- aged children try to calm youngsters' fears that they will be safe if and when they return.

        Some can't face the inescapable reminder of April 9 represented by a barren landscape. This is Laurie Arshonsky, who had lived in the house on the corner of Cornell Road and Valleystream since August 1992.

        “It was so gorgeous here with the trees,” she said. “It's all gone now.”

        On May 6, their bid on a Symmes Township home was accepted. The move will keep them in the Sycamore Local School District. Mrs. Arshonsky, her husband and three of the family's children are living temporarily in an apartment.

[arshonsky home]
Remains of the Arshonsky house.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        They'll move into the new house during the first week in July. They picked that time because Ashley Wright, Mrs. Arshonsky's daughter from her first marriage, wants to help. A graduating senior at Centre College in Danville, Ky., Miss Wright, 21, won't be available until then.

        “She insisted,” her mother said, “because she wasn't here for the cleanup.”

        Mrs. Arshonsky also will take a weather alert radio to her new home. It was a combination Mother's Day-birthday present from Miss Wright to her mom, who turned 47 on May 9.

        The card from daughter to mother read, in part:

        Mom, Happy birthday. Happy Mother's Day. This is probably the first time I haven't taken this day for granted. ...

Respect for life
        The Makowskis learned a long time ago not to take life for granted. An adult son, Stephen, died three years ago from liver disease. One of their two daughters, Susan, 37, was disabled in an auto collision almost 20 years ago and lives with her parents. Her bedroom vanished in the tornado, but she landed safely on a piece of drywall in the yard.

        “Everything that was important in that building I still have,” said Mrs. Makowski, 58.

ONE BLOCK STARTS OVER
A look at the homes on Valleystream Drive and whether their owners are staying or leaving.
        The Makowskis, who built the house in 1975, are living in a hotel.

        Their new home will have two bedrooms, living, dining and great rooms, a breakfast nook and a kitchen. They'll finish the basement so their children, in-laws and seven grandchildren have a place to stay on visits. There will also be offices for the self-employed Mr. Makowski (financial planning) and Mrs. Makowski (doll making).

        “I don't care about resale,” Mrs. Makowski said. “We told the kids when we die, they're going to have to sell the house to get their inheritance.”

        She doesn't look forward to decorating another home.

        “I put 23 years into putting things how I wanted in the old house,” she said. “We did it ourselves. I don't think we can do it again by ourselves.”

        Next door, Ed and Carolyn “Tinky” Wallace — empty-nest parents of three adult children who had their home built in 1975 — are considering several options.

        One option was moving to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, where they vacation.

        “The kids were saying just go to Hilton Head,” said Mrs. Wallace, who's staying with her husband in a hotel. “That sounds nice, but they evacuate for storms a lot, so that wasn't good.”

        Their son, Tom, and his wife and two young children live in Columbus.

        “We would see them once a year if we lived at Hilton Head, not once a month,” Mrs. Wallace said.

Tough choices
        Across the street, the home of Banwari and Meena Mittal faces Lakewater Drive. Unlike many of their empty-nest neighbors, they still have a child in school and are more concerned about resale value.

        Mr. Mittal, a business professor at Northern Kentucky University, moved his family from Buffalo, N.Y., in 1987.

        Like many of their neighbors, they were drawn by the schools and the neighborhood trees. The schools remain. Most of the trees are gone.

        “We wonder what our resale value would be without the trees and the nature preserve,” Mrs. Mittal said. “We still have cuts and bruises, but we are counting our blessings after what happened in Oklahoma.”

        Four people died in the April 9 tornado in northeast Hamilton County. The death toll from the May 3 tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas was 46.

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