Christina and her daughter were in the process of moving a bed from their shop house in a pole barn to their new mobile home when the storm hit Shepherd, bringing with it high winds, heavy rain and devastating hail. Before the hailstorm was through, both of her housing options – the shop house and their new trailer – had been destroyed and her family shaken.
“I was in the trailer house with my daughter when it started coming down,” Christina said. “It was unbelievable. All the windows were breaking out at the same time. Golf ball to tennis ball-size hail was coming through the windows, through the miniblinds and curtains – punching holes in the curtains. I told my daughter to seek shelter in a room that didn’t have windows, and I was trying to push what was left of the curtains back out so it would keep the hail from coming in as heavily. It was pretty unreal.”
The storm collapsed a large portion of the ceiling in the shop house, destroying much of Christina’s personal belongings. Flooding in the mobile home, which she had moved onto the property just three days earlier, caused severe structural damage and mold growth, making it unlivable. Other outbuildings like her hay shed and her garden shed were also destroyed.
“Even the next day, when it was 70 or 80 degrees, we still had two inches of hail dammed up around everything,” she said.
With power out throughout town that night, Christina picked up four neighborhood teens, friends of her daughter’s whose parents were out of town.
“They were in dark houses and were scared to stay by themselves,” she said.
At least she had a generator.
Counting her son and daughter, Christina now had two destroyed homes, six people to care for and feed and obvious uncertainty about where to go from here.
Within a day or so help arrived.
“I walked outside because my dogs were barking and I see a Red Cross truck sitting out there, and I’m like ‘Why is the Red Cross here? I thought they were only for big disasters overseas somewhere. Are they lost?’”
The Red Cross team provided Christina the financial assistance she needed to cover essentials like food, cleaning supplies, bins to help her salvage and protect what was left of her possessions and propane. They also put her in contact with agriculture resources so she could begin replacing her lost hay.
But perhaps most importantly, they showed Christina someone cared.
“They actually were able to give me a mental break, which was much needed,” she said. “We laughed, we talked, we joked … it really lifted my spirits.
“They checked back in with me the next day, the next couple days and even the week after just to see how we were holding up, how we were doing and just the progress that was going on. It was just really nice to know someone was thinking of me and had my best interests in mind.”
Mid-move, Christina’s stove had been sitting outside when the hail hit and was destroyed. That meant feeding seven people using only a grill. The Red Cross team once again stepped in and helped her purchase a used stove.
“A warm meal was worth a million dollars at that point,” she said.
In all, the Montana Red Cross provided comfort and support to 99 people in the Shepherd area following the mid-August storm. At least 45 homes were significantly impacted including 15 that were no longer livable.
“I’ve been in Montana since 1980 and seen some hail damage but nothing like this,” Red Cross disaster action team volunteer Hank Nowak said.
More than a month after the storm hit, Christina and her family are getting back on their feet. Her daughter’s friends have returned home, and she was able to rent a camper trailer where she is living until the insurance claims get straightened out.
“I feel like I’m living in the five-star Bellagio Hotel,” she laughed. “I’m just happy to have a solid roof over my head that doesn’t leak and there are no giant wolf spiders in there with me.”
And she’s grateful for the Red Cross truck that arrived unexpectedly at her home.
“She’s just an incredible person,” Red Cross responder Sherrilyn Hamilton said. “She always had a smile on her face every time we saw her despite what she had gone through. She’s an amazing lady.”
The Montana Red Cross responded to more than 150 disasters across the state last year. To make a donation to support disaster relief in Montana, call 800-272-6668 or visit montanaredcross.org. Those interested in becoming a volunteer with a Red Cross disaster action team can call the number above or visit www.redcross.org/local/montana/volunteer to learn more.