Tag Archives: Alabama

Alabama tornado survivors three months later: home is where the Weavers are

During the past three months, many readers from all over the world have stopped in at my blog to read up on the Weavers, a family who made an unexpected trip down the yellow brick road this spring when a tornado destroyed their Alabama home on April 27, 2011. Their story, which I first wrote about here, tugged at many hearts, especially for those of us who are animal people and have strong bonds to our pets. We shared their grief and their joy.

This is the story of how they continue to heal, three months after one of the worst storms in Alabama’s history changed everything.

Ten adorable baby ratties are trying out one of their very first grown-up meals: a plate of spaghetti.  Julie steps right onto the plate.  George meticulously nibbles on a single kernel of corn. Hannah eats a noodle from beginning to end. Now 21 days old, these Fourth of July babies were part of the package when the Weaver family adopted three rats, one of whom was pregnant, from nearly 200 abandoned pets at the Mainely Rat Rescue.

It’s three months later. It’s not the same, but the Weavers are slowly rebuilding their lives, reestablishing what it means to have a home. Coziness. Comfort. A sense of safety. And lots of loving pets.

Three of the newest members of the Weaver household: baby ratties George, Hannah and Dolley play in a soda box during their very first floor time. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

The first two weeks were overwhelming in their immediacy. Shock. Pain. Grief for all that was lost, especially so many of their beloved guinea pigs and rats. Needing clothes to wear the next day, food for the family, a place to sleep. Injuries to recover from. They needed to replace their vehicles and finish cleaning their land. As time passed, the initial trauma gave way to the long-term questions. Where would they go? Could they rebuild? Did they want to start over somewhere new?

The Weavers were starting over from scratch.

It was different than moving away from home for the first time. When you left home, you had your clothes, a few pieces of furniture, and those tangible little things that you cherished as your own. But this was worse. As they sorted through their belongings, they learned the hard way that in addition to losing their pets, they lost many of those treasured things. “I know it’s just stuff,” Marsha wrote, “[but] it means something to me.” The worst part was that unlike when they left home, they didn’t get to pick what survived. The rocking chair Marsha held her children in when they were babies, Doug’s very first mother’s day present to her, vanished. The handful of Doug’s late mother’s things were also gone. All of the family videos were destroyed. “It’s strange to know you had those items,” Marsha wrote, “and poof, they are just gone.”

Some special things did survive.  Marsha’s cedar chest, a gift from her parents, was damaged and could not be saved, but many of the contents could. Her own Christening gown. The outfits her children wore when they came home from the hospital for the first time.

Yet while so many items were missing or destroyed, the compost heap of guinea pig litter remained completely intact, proving what all guinea pig owners already know: guinea pig poop is completely indestructible. “Obviously,” Marsha wrote with humor, “the tornado could not find a use for it either!”

The surviving pets are settling into their apartment surroundings, even if they are a bit less spacious than the old house. The four surviving guinea pigs, Allie-Belle, Holly, Jasmine, and Emma, are learning to share a cage. Shelby, the dog who survived surgery by flashlight, is coping with hiking the stairs to a second floor apartment.

Allie-Belle, Jasmine, Emma and Holly line up for one of the first family portraits shot by Marsha since the storm. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Of the five surviving rats, two had a difficult time. Olivia, the little girl who was found more than two days after the tornado, continues to struggle with asthma.

Sweet old Wesley, the elderly rat who wasn’t expected to survive at all, lasted long enough to help his humans and rattie friends through the worst of the aftermath before his own health failed and he crossed the rainbow bridge.

Still grieving, but so full of love and compassion, the Weavers opened their home to new critters, sweet little rats they could love and cherish. The Weavers needed them as much as the rats needed the Weavers. New life, new discoveries, new joys. Not the same as before, but still beautiful. Still important.

Every day after the tornado has been a marathon. Balancing what absolutely needs to be done while establishing a new sense of normalcy takes strength and courage. Overwhelming amounts of paperwork. Arranging to have temporary electrical service at the damaged property. Turning in rental cars. Making list after list after list of everything they can ever remember owning for the insurance company while getting dinner on the table and picking the kids up from school.

One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. Some days are better than others. Other days, like when news spread of the disasters in Reading, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri,  and the sirens went off in Alabama–those days were hard.

Marsha had never intended to gussy up the apartment.

But the Weavers are nesters, and as the weeks passed, Marsha knew it needed to be their special place, even if it was only for a little while and it had to be done on a very tight budget. A few decorative pillows, a rooster canister set. These little touches made their temporary space cozy. Even more, it gave them some control over their lives.

The Weavers want a home of their own again. They don’t know where that home will be yet. Some days, they’re sure they want to rebuild, better than before, complete with a storm shelter and emergency lighting. Other days, they visit their lot and see the homes to which their neighbors never returned, and they aren’t so sure. They’ll have to decide soon, but not yet.

For now, the Weavers have each other and their strengthened ties with family and friends. The Cozy Cavy has not yet reopened for business, but nearly 1,500 people share in the ups and downs of post-tornado life with Marsha and her family at the Cozy Cavy Facebook page, and thousands more connect with her through GuineaLynx.

During a shopping trip for towels, Marsha picked up a framed picture and hung it on her apartment wall. The words on the sampler epitomize the courage and heart that is integral to being a Weaver:

Having a place to go is HOME

Having someone to love is FAMILY

Having both is a BLESSING.

The Weaver family is proof that despite horrible loss, there is hope, and that every day is full of little miracles.

Featured in Guinea Pig Magazine: The Weaver Tornado Survivors

Many guinea pig and rat fans (as well as animal lovers in general) have stopped by this web site to read up on the Weaver family, who lost their home and many of their pets during the April 27, 2011 Alabama tornado. Moved by the Weavers’ story and their heroic efforts to save as many of their pets as possible, Guinea Pig Magazine has included a four-page feature story in their July/August 2011 issue. In addition to excerpting my blog, Guinea Pig Magazine has also included an entire section on disaster preparedness for guinea pigs: transportation, food, housing, health care, and emergency contact information.

While the Weavers could not have done more to protect themselves in the circumstances they faced, it’s never too early for the rest of us to consider ways we can better prepare for emergencies.

Thank you, Emporia Gazette, for sharing the story of a community coming together to support the Weavers!

Today’s Emporia Gazette includes a great follow-up to the story of the Weavers, whose lives changed when a tornado struck their Alabama home on April 27. Read the story here.

New beginnings for little miracles: the littlest tornado survivors acclimate to new surroundings

After tornadoes tore through parts of the South on April 27, people all over the world tuned in to the story of the Weavers, a family of people and pets who found themselves in the middle of one of the most devastated neighborhoods in Alabama.

As mentioned in the first post about the Weavers, Marsha Weaver is a woman with many real and virtual friends and admirers. She and her husband and children opened their home to many pets from animal shelters and rescues, and fostered other critters until forever homes could be found for them. A gifted seamstress, she ran The Cozy Cavy, which sold handcrafted beds and hidy places for the littlest furry pets.

On April 27, the Weavers lost almost everything: their home, their cars, their sense of safety. But worst of all, they lost many of their pets. As word spread on facebook and through online pet communities like GuineaLynx, people who had never met or even heard of the Weavers worried about them and the well-being of the littlest family members still unaccounted for: ten guinea pigs, ten rats, and several foster rats awaiting permanent homes. Desperately wanting to help, other rat and guinea pig pet owners began to raise monetary support through web sites like Sponsor a Guinea Pig. Plans were made for accumulating people and pet supplies when the Weavers were ready to receive them.

If only some of the Weaver Pigs and Rats could be found alive.

Then a miracle occurred.

Doug Weaver found Emma the guinea pig hiding under a piece of fleece shortly after the storm. Guinea pigs Jasmine, Holly, and Allie-Belle were found the next day. Rats Wesley, Samantha, Lulu, and Makayla were discovered, too. More than 48 hours after the storm, Olivia, sporting a small injury near her right eye, was also found.

As the family recovered from their injuries and sought a new home, the Weavers’ amazing veterinarian housed their pets, along with many other animals injured or displaced by the storm.

Olivia the rat shows off the injury above her right eye while hanging out with her friends at the vet's office. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Members of GuineaLynx and other friends of the  Weavers in the area began to collect basic pet supplies for the veterinary office.  Shelby, the Weaver’s dog, was recovering from injuries sustained to her face and foot during the tornado and had several follow-up visits to the vet.

At last, the Weavers found an apartment that could accommodate four humans, a dog, four guinea pigs and five rats. The Weavers’ online friends, as well as Marsha’s sister, Marie Forgie, had coordinated the gathering of cage building materials, hay, pellets, and a special dog bed for Shelby. Becky Hines, a gifted seamstress who runs Sewing 4 A Cause, donated several handcrafted beds and tunnels. Gorgeous Guineas donated a gift basket of grooming products. And Lisa Sharp, a GuineaLynx community member, piled the donated supplies into her car and road-tripped to the Weaver apartment to help the Weavers build a proper cage for the little critters.

As the guinea pigs waited in their temporary digs–a cardboard box made as cozy as possible–Lisa and the Weavers got to work.

The Weaver Pigs wait in their cardboard box while their new cage is under construction. Jasmine (black guinea pig) rests in the pink cuddle cup; Allie-Belle hides in the elephant-print tunnel; and Holly paces along the wall. Not visible: Emma. Photo by Lisa Sharp.

The Weaver pets are used to living well, and they were going to have a nice place when Lisa and the Weavers were finished. After a few hours of elbow grease, the Weaver Pigs finally got to explore their new digs.

The Weaver pigs explore their new cage, while Shelby checks out her new mat. Note the scar under Shelby's eye, from an injury incurred during the April 27 tornado. Photo by Lisa Sharp.

Emma heads for the new "kitchen area" as the guinea pigs explore their new surroundings. Photo by Lisa Sharp.

It's not quite the same, but it's better than the cardboard box! Clockwise, from bottom left: Holly, Jasmine (under the canopy), Allie-Belle, and Emma. Photo by Lisa Sharp.

We can’t change the fact that a tornado reduced a huge swatch of Alabama to rubble. We can’t make up for the losses and the tragedies. But we can help the survivors survive. Seventeen days after the storm, the remaining members of the Weaver family are safe and together under one roof.

Many other tornado victims –humans and pets–are still in need of assistance. If you have not done so, consider giving to a reputable charity. Animal shelters and veterinary offices – many of which gave free emergency treatment to animals injured during the April 27 tornado, can also use your support. If you are in the area, consider fostering a displaced pet. More opportunities to help others in need will likely arise as the flooding Mississippi River displaces families and pets. And if you haven’t already done so, it’s never too early to consider emergency plans for your own pets. FEMA offers a checklist if you need help getting started.

A miracle can weigh less than 3 pounds: the littlest Alabama tornado survivors

This is a story of miracles and heartbreak, joy and sadness. This is the story of the Weavers and the Weaver critters, who rode out one of the fierce Alabama tornadoes that touched down on April 27.

The Weavers lived in a pretty house in Alabama, a single-story home with enough room for a family of four, a dog, ten guinea pigs, ten rats, and a variety of critters who were lucky enough to be fostered by the Weavers while waiting for the right forever home.

Weaver Home

The Weaver's Alabama home, this past winter. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Marsha Weaver, a skilled craftswoman who dedicated her abilities to creating beautiful beds and hidey places for little critters, shared her sewing room with her guinea pigs and rats. Marsha sewed products for her shop, The Cozy Cavy, while the Weaver Pigs and the Weaver Ratties kept her company.

Marsha's Sewing Room

The Sewing Room and Little Critter Hub at the Weaver House. Look carefully - you can see guinea pigs in the cages, some pulling hay out of their haylofts. Marsha's sewing machines are in the background. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

There was almost no warning. The April 27 storm moved in to the Weaver neighborhood almost before it was reported. As the skies grew frighteningly dark and the rain pounded the roof, Marsha ushered her children and Shelby, the family dog, into the hallway. Her husband, Doug, skirted through the front door moments later. Before she could decide what to do about the littlest family members, the house began to shake. The house fell in, then pieces flew in the air. The Weavers felt the pull of the storm. Shelby, hovering off the floor, was anchored to her humans by her collar. It lasted for only moments; it lasted forever.

During a brief lull in the storm, they rose out of the wreckage and fled. Injured. Barefoot. Scared.

As reported in Friday’s post, Marsha, her daughter, and Shelby the dog suffered the greatest injuries. Marsha and her daughter were admitted to a nearby hospital. Shelby, whose face was severely injured by flying debris, endured four layers of stitches, administered by a vet working by flashlight.

Despite having their own injuries to tend to, the Weavers were heartsick over their littlest critters. Maybe, just maybe, some of them might have survived. Doug, the healthiest of the bunch, made his first search of the debris field that was once their home.

He found Emma, alive, hiding under a piece of Marsha’s fleece fabric.

Emma the guinea pig

Emma, the first guinea pig to be found alive after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Finding Emma alive brought the entire Weaver family hope. The members of the GuineaLynx community cheered. Thank God, we all said collectively. If there is one, there might be more. This sweet little sow who bossed the other girls around had beaten the odds.

When daylight broke, Doug got his first good look at the rubble that was once their home.

Weaver House After Tornado

The remains of the Weavers' Alabama home, after the tornado. Photo by Steve Weaver.

Pieces of their home and pieces of their lives were scattered all over the neighborhood. Marsha’s extensive collection of fabric hung from tree branches like the tattered flags.  He had found one pet alive. There might be more. He began to search.

By now, thousands of people, many of whom had never heard of the Weavers before, were following their story. Fingers crossed, prayers said, tears shed, well-wishers worried over the Weavers and their pets. The situation was made all the more agonizing as communication was delayed by spotty phone service and dying cell phone batteries.

The search continued as the Weavers and fellow rescuers sifting through the detritus.

More miracles.

Three more guinea pigs and three rats were found alive and relatively healthy, though scared and hungry. These little critters had taken shelter wherever they could find it, even in the branches and under the roots of fallen trees.

Holly, one of the newest Weaver Pigs, was so pleased to be found that she wheeked and wheeked hard enough to make her ears flap. Also found were the adorable but naughty little Allie-Belle, and Jasmine, a sweet little girl who found her way to the Weaver home through the Atlanta Metro Guinea Pig Rescue.

Holly, a guinea pig.

Holly, a guinea pig, was found alive after the April 27 tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.


Allie-Belle, a guinea pig, was found alive after the April 27 tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.


Jasmine, a guinea pig found alive after the April 27 tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Three of Marsha’s ratties, LuLu, Samantha, and Makayla, were also found, hungry and scared, but otherwise in good condition.

LuLu the rat

LuLu, a Weaver rat, was found alive after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Samantha the rat

Samantha, one of the Weaver rats, was found alive after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Makayla the rat

Makayla, one of the Weaver rats, was discovered alive after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Seven of the Weaver Pigs and Rats were healthy and accounted for, but the day was not without heartbreak. Hopkins, a senior at six years old, was critically injured. He was rushed to a vet, who humanely helped the poor old guinea pig earn his wings. Natasha, the Weavers’ nine-year-old granny pig, had also succumbed to the storm, as had seven-year-old Sherman and fun little Rose. Three rats – Annie, Devon, and Victoria – perished. The remains of two other pets – one guinea pig, one rat – could not be identified. One guinea pig and four rats were still missing.

Then another miracle: Wesley, an elderly three-year-old rat, was found, but traumatized and injured. He was not expected to make it through the night, but surprised everyone as he continued to fight for his life.

Wesley the rat

Wesley, a three-year-old rat, survived the storm. He is in critical condition. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Marsha was released from the hospital and joined her husband in the careful search. Meanwhile, news of the Weavers’ tragedy rippled through the communities of guinea pig owners, Cozy Cavy customers, and numerous small animal rescue organizations. Contributions poured in through the Sponsor a Guinea Pig web site, reaching $8,000 Saturday morning. Jubilation over the miracles was tempered by grief for the losses. Yet, the Weavers’ vet was so hopeful, she joined the search for the remaining missing animals.

Saturday morning, another miracle was announced. Another rattie, Olivia, had been found, scared and thirsty, but healthy.

Olivia, another Weaver Rat, was discovered more than 48 hours after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

As the Weavers sorted through the remnants of their home, the mailman came. He noted the missing mailbox, then the missing house, then hand-delivered the mail to the Weavers. Another miracle.

One guinea pig and two of the Weaver Rats were still unaccounted for. All five of the foster rats were also missing, with no signs of them or their cage.

Marsha’s daughter, whose shoulder was broken and lung was punctured, was released from the hospital. Another miracle.

Throughout the entire ordeal, the GuineaLynx community remained glued to their computers and phones and iPads. The very few text messages that could work their way through the spotty cellular coverage offered Marsha and her family everyone’s love and support. We were so happy she had so many little critters left to cuddle, and glad that she at least knew others were at peace. We cried for those lost, we cried for those still missing.

Deep down, we knew such tragedy could have happened to any of us. We cuddled our own critters extra tight.

Unfortunately, the Weavers’ story is not unique. Many, many people across the south, and especially in Alabama, were devastated by the tornadoes on April 27. Many pets are out there, injured and scared, looking for owners; many owners are out there, injured and scared, looking for pets. Many rescues and organizations are posting information about lost and found pets and ways to give or receive assistance through a special facebook page.

And while there wasn’t enough time for the Weavers to fully engage in an emergency plan, their story made the rest of us pet owners realize how important it is to have one. FEMA offers some basic ideas for how to develop one.

For the Weavers, the story is just beginning. And as I posted on Friday, despite the horrible loss, there is hope. There are amazing people in the world who will reach out and help others in need. And there are little miracles.

Special thanks to Marsha’s sister, Marie, who joined the GuineaLynx community to keep Marsha’s GL friends updated on the search and recovery process. This post would not have been possible without her.

Please note: information in this blog may be adjusted for accuracy as information becomes available.