Donna O’Connor was working late one night at Alabama Power’s Western Division headquarters in Tuscaloosa and noticed that Vickie Edwards, one of the building’s cleaning crew, was distraught.
“We could tell she was visibly upset, so we all went to the hallway where she started telling us her story, not for us to feel sorry for her, but it was a day that she just needed to talk,” said O’Connor, a member of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and a corporate real estate specialist.
Edwards and her husband, Sam, along with their daughter and granddaughters, were victims of the huge tornado that struck Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011. She and her daughter, Arielle, were home with the children and had taken shelter in the bathroom. Edwards leaned against the sink while her daughter and granddaughters were in the bathtub.
Edwards was calling her son to check on his safety when the tornado ripped out the walls around them. The roaring winds lifted the tub with her daughter and granddaughters, then lifted Edwards into the air and dropped them nearly 20 feet, she said. Afterward, help arrived and rushed those who could be found to the hospital.
Because of the widespread destruction and casualties, Edwards spent hours on a gurney in the hospital hallway before she was moved into a room. When she woke up, she immediately asked where her family was. Edwards told a nurse her youngest granddaughter’s name, Aneyah, to see if she could find her. The nurse called out for the girl and Aneyah answered with a loud “Huh?” confirming her identity. The moment brought Edwards to tears.
Edwards and Aneyah survived with severe injuries, while Edwards’ oldest granddaughter, Makayla, who was found later that day, died. Edwards’ daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury that day and died June 1, 2011.
On the day of the tornado, Edwards’ husband was in Ohio, desperately trying to find a way home.
After hearing Edwards’ story, O’Connor said the Lord put it in her mind to tell her about Habitat for Humanity and to help her apply for a house. O’Connor and Kelly Atchley, a marketing representative for Alabama Power, worked with Habitat and the Edwards family so they could receive a new, fully furnished house.
“It’s really rewarding to be out here to work with the Edwards family,” Atchley said. “They’re such a kind family to work with and we can’t wait for them to move into their house.” Atchley wanted to be sure the family had exactly what they wanted, and what Edwards wanted more than anything was to have a front porch to sit on. When the Edwardses drove by to check the status of the house, the workers and volunteers were working on their porch.
That day was bittersweet for the Edwards family. It was Sam’s birthday, but also the anniversary of their daughter’s death.
“Today I’m thinking about my daughter and my grandbaby. This is for them,” Edwards said. “Us being able to do something and having beautiful, loving, caring people, people you never met coming together.
“God said people come in your life each season, each reason, whether for a short or long time, they’re there,” she said.
Ellen Potts, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa, was touched by the family’s tragic story, and how wonderful and positive they have remained through it all. She knew immediately she wanted and needed to help them.
On June 1, members of the Alabama Power Service Organization Western Division helped with the construction and painting of the Edwards’ home, which is expected to be ready by the end of the month.
“I never imagined I would own my own home, so this is life-changing for us,” Edwards said. “I have met beautiful people like Donna, people from Alabama Power, people from Carolina, the young university students, and believe me, from the bottom of my heart, I love them.”