Couple who lost home in tornado feel 'blessed’

Wes Franklin

For Lyndel and Katherine Arnall, the past year has been quite an adventure. Or at least that’s the way they look at it.

One year ago, the rural Neosho couple came home from a Saturday day trip to find their home smashed into a pile of unrecognizable debris, the result of a E-F4 tornado that tore a wide swath from one end of Newton County to the other. The Arnalls' home on Hammer Road had been right in the middle.

Today, the semi-retired couple say they actually feel blessed and that their faith in God has been reaffirmed. Only God, they say, could spin something tragic into something good.

On the afternoon of May 10, 2008, the Arnalls were on the road home, headed south on U.S. 71 after spending a day in Kansas City. Normally on a Saturday, the two would have been home, putting the finishing touches on the relatively new house they had built less than two years before. The shiny hardwood floors had been laid down only a month earlier.

The Arnalls were simply hoping they didn’t run into any rain on the drive home. They had no way of knowing that at that moment a black funnel cloud was ripping their new home to splinters. 

Then a neighbor called and informed them a tornado had hit Newton County, but he didn’t know the damage yet. About the time the Arnalls reached the Carthage exit, however, the same neighbor called back and told them their house was, well, gone.

They came home to nothing.

“There’s a certain shock in coming home out of the blue and finding your house scattered everywhere,” Lyndel Arnall said. “The thought of cleaning this mess up was just overwhelming.”

“You don’t know where to begin,” Katherine Arnall added.

They finally started the next morning by picking through the debris, mostly looking for family heirlooms that might still be intact. They didn’t have much luck.

On the bright side, the cavalry arrived that same morning. The Arnalls’ son-in-law, Charlie Brown, whose home next door was barely touched, had called in his brothers, owners of a construction company near Kansas City. The Brown boys soon got to work.

First on the to-do list was pushing the scattered remnants of the house and surrounding uprooted trees into manageable debris mounds. After the Arnalls salvaged what they could from the rubble pile on the still-intact foundation, that too was pushed off the slab into a pile.

“It was amazing how quickly they began to get it cleaned up – so very much quicker than I had in any way imagined,” Lyndel Arnall said. “I figured it was going to take maybe a lifetime to clean all this mess up.”

The Arnalls also had help from friends and neighbors, who would stop by for a couple hours at a time and help saw downed trees or pick up smaller debris. They also brought and other little things people usually take for granted. 

Fortunately, the Arnalls carried tornado coverage. Within three days, the agent stopped by and declared the home a total loss. Within three weeks, the insurance money came through and paid for everything 100 percent down the line. Within three months, the Arnalls had completely rebuilt their abode on the same site, Lyndel Arnall and his son-in-law and family doing most of the work. They have also begun replanting trees and putting in landscaping.

“We were very blessed that things happened the way they happened at the time it happened,” Lyndel Arnall said. “If this (disaster) had happened at a different time in our lives, under different circumstances — there are just a hundred little things that if anything had been even slightly different if would have changed the whole outcome.

"But as it turned out, everything just kind of fell together, fit together and just worked out and actually became a blessing to us … People like to think of that in terms of ‘chance’ or maybe just being ‘lucky’, but I feel like it has to be more than just luck the way things turned out. It confirms our trust in God and that he will take care of us and does take of us.”

Today, the Arnalls are living comfortably in a new house that almost exactly matches the one destroyed, even down to the color of the interior paint and carpet. There are some things the couple even like better about it, things they had noticed or thought of only after building their old house, such as a different turn of the roofline or putting in stone tile instead of hard-to-keep-clean hardwood flooring.

They even built in a nice working fireplace, which they didn’t have before.

And while they would gladly trade it in for all of the family mementos and keepsakes that were forever lost in the tornado, the Arnalls love their new and improved home.

“God took this disaster and he turned into an adventure for us,” Katherine Arnall said. “It was never ‘woe is me’ when we were rebuilding. We knew God would give us the strength to do it again. And the process of doing that was really quite a wonderful experience.”

Neosho Daily News