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Sisters share stories of flooding, tornado damage

Story and photos by Sally Ince

Just days after Rebecca Hoelscher began making preparations to prevent floodwaters from entering her new home she received a message from her sister, Sarah Struemph, telling her she had been hit by a tornado the night before.
Sarah’s home had been hit by an EF-3 tornado that struck Jefferson City on May 22. Destruction spanned over a 3-mile path throughout the city, damaging homes and businesses.

A large tree rests against Sarah Struemph’s home the
morning after it was hit by an EF-3 tornado.

Having almost slept through the storm, Sarah was woken up by her husband with just enough time to save the family dog. Within seconds after taking cover, a tree had been blown through the corner of her home where the dog had been hiding.

“I was sleeping and my husband had to yell at me to get me up so to me it’s like a bad dream that I just keep going through you know and it’s hard to wrap your head around,“ Sarah said.
The couple had been working for years to remodel their home and were nearly complete with the project when the storm hit. Like many people who had been affected by the tornado that night, they were left in complete shock.
Then as Sarah and her husband began processing what they could do next, they received word that floodwaters were rising to the point that water began entering Rebecca’s basement.
Rebecca and her boyfriend had just moved into their dream home less than two weeks before they had to move everything from the basement up to the second floor. With most of their belongings still in boxes, Rebecca had to refocus on doing whatever she could to minimize the damage.
“Everything kind of got put on hold, even work,” Rebecca explained. “I would come to work for four hours and I had this feeling that I needed to get home because for some reason my house was going to go under water in that four hours I would be gone.”
Rebecca said she’s practically forgotten what her backyard looks like because she had only been in the home a few days before it was completely covered with water. Although water had begun receding a considerable amount since reaching her basement, Rebecca still had no idea if and when the water would rise again.
“I feel like I can’t find that time to think of anything but the tragedy that’s going on,” Rebecca said.
However, Sarah and Rebecca expressed that the hardest part of dealing with the disaster was not being able to help each other like they normally would.

Tarp and sand bags are placed against Rebecca Hoelscher’s home in an attempt to prevent floodwaters from entering her basement.

“At some point that week I called you or you called me and we both kind of said it about the same time, she said ‘Becky I feel so bad that I haven’t been there to help avoid this catastrophe and I can’t be there to do anything for you’ and I said ‘I feel the same way, I haven’t been able to be there for you,’” Rebecca said reflecting with her sister.
Sarah and Rebecca have always been close. Often they get together three to four times a week just to catch up, but after disaster had hit both of their homes it took more than 10 days until they could see each other again.
More than a month after the storm, Rebecca was still trying clean up the mess after fish, leeches and water bugs had been living in her basement. Sarah was hoping contractors would be coming out to her house soon to replace the roof and damaged porch, but predicted it would take four to six months before everything would be back to normal.
“We knew we were tough broads, but now we have another notch in the belt,” Rebecca said.
Sarah and Rebecca said they will reconsider how to better prepare for severe weather after this experience. Rebecca has thought about possibly excavating her yard and is considering her options for basement flooring if they have to deal with flooding this high again. Sarah said she will definitely be taking tornado warnings more seriously and is keeping flashlights throughout the house just in case.
Although they are still dealing with the effects, they continue to encourage each other and hope to encourage others who are going through the same thing.

Rebecca Hoelscher’s backyard and greenhouse can be seen before they were completely covered by floodwaters.

“You can’t break yourself down in the middle of it,” Rebecca said. “All you can do is make use of your time right now and try not to ponder on it.”
They both agreed they are lucky considering the circumstances and that this experience has caused them to reflect on the things that are really important.
“It’s brought us closer if that’s possible,” Sarah said.
“Keep your faith and your family close,” Rebecca commented.
Thankfully, both women are still able to live in their homes as they undergo repairs. Rebecca hopes to have her new home ready by October so she can have family members over for holidays after making them a promise.
The sisters also credit their mother, Elizabeth J. Siebeneck, with making them both so strong.

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Molly Morris

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