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The Calm After the Storm : Hurricane: A Louisiana family finds peace, at least for now, when volunteers rebuild their home. ‘This was the first time anyone loved them and asked for nothing in return,’ a group leader says.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Deborah and Robert Prine’s marriage was falling apart, until Hurricane Andrew came along. Out of despair rose a new beginning.

On Aug. 25, a tornado spun from the hurricane tore through the wooded fields in this Louisiana community, smashing the Prines’ small house and horse barn. It seemed to be the final blow in an already failing relationship.

When she first saw her little house strewn across acres of what once was her father’s rice field, Deborah fell to the ground, in the mud, and cried aloud: “Why couldn’t God have taken me too?”

It was also too much for Robert, who works for a construction company “out in the swamps” near Bayou Pidgeon.

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“About two days after it happened, he took off,” Deborah said, compassion in her voice. “He just couldn’t handle it.”

On the day of the storm, Deborah recalled, “I cried all that night. When you live in a place so long, it’s a part of you. The memories are all there.”

Next to where she was standing on this day four months after the hurricane passed through, four concrete steps rose up to their house trailer, which is now gone.

The Prines were living in the nearby trailer while their old house was undergoing restoration.

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Gary Martinez, pastor of Grace Community Church and the leader of a group that’s helped to rebuild the Prines’ lives, said Hurricane Andrew was a major turning point for Deborah and Robert.

“The storm has thrown them back together,” Martinez said. “You’re not going to see another statistic--not another divorce--not another single mom with two kids.”

Robert, 30, and Deborah, 22, have suffered more than their share of hardships during the five years of their marriage.

Deborah spoke freely about the obstacles she and Robert have faced, including parents who don’t support their marriage and her own suicide attempts.

She told of their financial problems, the time she had to sell her cows to get Robert out of jail.

But all that changed, at least for now, when their home was destroyed.

The Grace Community Church in nearby LaPlace, and volunteers from as far away as Nebraska, built the Prines a new house. In the process, they created a home.

The day construction on the new house began, Deborah seemed dazed and bewildered as she stood watching strangers nailing boards together. She was withdrawn and cold.

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Robert, who returned to Deborah after a one-week absence, recalls the first time he saw the volunteers at work on the house.

“They look like little angels,” he said.

The house was built largely from materials taken from another house in nearby LaPlace, which was also destroyed by the hurricane but covered by insurance. Donations covered other costs.

Now, two months after she moved her family into the new house, Deborah’s eyes shine with pride and self-esteem.

“This was the first time anyone loved them and asked for nothing in return,” Martinez said. “We didn’t ask for contributions or help--nothing.”

“I was just waiting to see what kind of joke was going on. That’s what I was calling it--a joke,” Deborah said, laughing, as she sat at her new kitchen table. “I figured there was a catch to this deal.”

There was no catch. And by the middle of October, the Prines and their two daughters--Heather, 4 1/2, and Karen, 1-- had moved into their new home, just a few feet from where their trailer used to be.

It’s a lovely two-bedroom house with a plush blue sofa in the living room, hand-carved cypress cupboards in the kitchen and family pictures scattered throughout.

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The only thing salvaged from the trailer is the bathtub.

“Before all this happened I told Robert that I feel like I’m getting in a hole and I can’t get out,” Deborah said, shaking her head. “I just don’t feel like I’m in a hole anymore.”

But Deborah admitted that it’s more than a house that’s changed her life.

“If someone had just come along and built this house, it wouldn’t have meant that much,” she said. “It was that people cared enough to come all the way from Nebraska and start this. It means a lot. It really does.”


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