Year of recovery brings family closer together

Year of recovery brings family closer together

Ashanka Kumari

Kevin Bannister biked two and a half miles from Alberta City to his sister’s home several hours after the tornado on April 27, 2011. The only thing he had was a small flashlight between his teeth to guide him.

The trip, from his home on 10th Street East to his sister’s home near Buffalo Wild Wings on McFarland Boulevard, took between 30-45 minutes. Before the tornado, his wife Felicia Bannister could not recall a time when her husband had ridden a bicycle in the 14 years they have been married.

But Kevin Bannister said his mind was not focused on himself, but on ensuring the safety of his wife and son.

“My wife asked how I could ride a bike at night with just a small flashlight, but I just told her that sometimes you just have to do what you have to do,” he said. “There were times where I had to stop for a few minutes to catch my breath, but I would just keep getting back on it and riding.”

The neighborhood was entirely dark, and when he finally arrived on 15th Street, all he could see were the flashlights of people walking, pushing carts and walking alongside trucks filled with injured people, he said.

Earlier that day, Felicia, Kevin and their son KeVaughn sat together in their bathroom closet for safety during the storm.

“We piled in and braced ourselves,” Felicia Bannister said. “We could hear the storm coming and it sounded like one of the biggest jumbo jets you ever wanted to hear. It had the train sound, but it sounded like it was coming so fast and we could hear stuff being thrown around.”

As an extra precaution, KeVaughn Bannister put on a football helmet after Felicia heard a weatherperson on television advise having children put on a football helmet if they had one.

“When we were in the closet, my son put on his football helmet, and I held a little doll I had named Dolly alongside my husband. We were sitting and praying,” she said. “I remember putting my arms through my son’s and holding onto him thinking, ‘God, if our house gets hit, I’m trying to hold onto us, so we can at least end up somewhere together.’”

After the tornado, the Bannister family stayed with Kevin’s sister for a few nights before moving into an apartment for the next 10 months. Recently, they returned to their Alberta home.

“There are still things to be done, and we are still trying to get [repairs] wrapped up,” Felicia Bannister said. “Our house had quite a bit of damage to it, but it wasn’t destroyed like many others including two homes right in front of us. It’s just amazing because when we started hearing about and seeing the damage that had been done, we were shocked and overwhelmed.”

Since the tornado, Kevin Bannister feels he and his neighbors have gotten closer; though, he wonders why it took a devastating event to initiate this bond.

“It shows that there are people who do care when you get in trouble or when something happens,” he said. “I thank God for sparing our lives, and we are very thankful.”

The Bannister home, as well as the carport where Felicia’s car was, were both damaged by two large trees. After the storm initially hit and Kevin felt it was safe, he told his family they could exit the closet and began helping people in his neighborhood who had received worse damage.

Less than an hour after the first storm, the family heard about a second storm coming in their direction and went into a neighbor’s basement where they stayed until they felt it was safe again.

Today, the Bannister family’s home has been repainted and has new windows and floors but most importantly, the family has gotten a lot closer to one another, Felicia Bannister said.

“We have learned to appreciate every day because no one is promised a tomorrow or the next hour,” she said. “You have to appreciate every minute of life and take the good and bad while being thankful that we have each other and family support.”