ELON — Nearly a year and a half after a tornado swept away more than a dozen homes in Amherst County, work has begun on the last house waiting to be rebuilt.

“It’s so beautiful,” said Wayne Goff, the future owner of the home that now is not much more than its foundation.

In April 2018, Wayne’s home in Elon was destroyed when an EF-3 category tornado left a 25-mile-long path of destruction from Campbell County, through Lynchburg and Amherst County, felling hundreds of trees and smashing homes and businesses.

When the weather turned, Wayne was at home with his daughter Haley and son Matthew. In a moment, the tornado shredded their trailer, lifted the Goffs off their feet and buried them under a pile of debris.

All three survived, but Goff suffered serious injuries when he slammed into the ground. His left leg was broken in 27 places and the muscles in his left arm were torn by the force of the impact. Similarly, Haley’s feet were badly injured, making her largely immobile.

Only Matthew, just 10 years old at the time, was strong enough to search for help. Shoeless and with his clothes in tatters, he climbed through downed power lines and over broken glass before flagging down a neighbor and finding his mother as she arrived home from work.

Now the Goffs are on the road to recovery with the help of the Amherst Disaster Recovery Group and Amherst Habitat for Humanity, which is spearheading the effort to rebuild the Goffs’ home just outside the town of Amherst.

On Saturday, Wayne, his wife, Jeanett Goff, and their two children joined a crew of Habitat volunteers as they started work on the home’s wooden frame. Construction began in early August and Habitat hopes to complete work by the end of the year. If everything goes according to schedule, the Goffs could move in by Christmas.

“It means everything because we’d be struggling right now,” Jeanett said. “We wouldn’t have a future.”

Once finished, the three-bedroom split-foyer home will be structurally reinforced to sustain powerful wind gusts and will be handicapped accessible, according to Debbie Habel, the construction manager for the ADRG and the executive director of the local Habitat chapter.

“It’s a much safer constructed house than what the building code requires,” Habel said.

That will give peace of mind to the Goffs, who like many Amherst County residents still feel a sense of unease every time the weather threatens severe local storms. It also will ensure the Goffs can live comfortably if they face more health issues.

After the tornado, Wayne spent months in the hospital. He since has undergone four surgeries and has suffered several infections, which routinely have sent him back to the hospital. Doctors are concerned if the infection returns he eventually could lose his leg. Though he now can walk on his own, Wayne has at times relied on a wheelchair, as has Haley.

The help the family now is receiving almost didn’t happen.

Since the Goffs were renters on the night of the tornado, they did not qualify for housing assistance from the ADRG. They also did not qualify for the Habitat program since they’ve lost much of their income. Wayne’s disability keeps him from working and Jeanett’s role as caretaker became a full-time position, causing her to quit her job so she can look after her family.

But Habel, moved by the Goffs’ story and their resilience in the face of tragedy, pressed the ADRG and Habitat’s board to “break the rules.” They both agreed.

“We decided that if we could blend our efforts together we could make it work,” Habel said, referring to the ADRG-Habitat partnership. “We have put them in a position where they can make themselves whole.”

The rebuilding effort has been buoyed by a flood of donations, which have kept costs low. The average monthly mortgage payment for a Habitat home in Amherst is about $300 per month, but according to Habel, the Goffs’ monthly costs could be less than $150.

From the Goffs’ perspective, the dedication shown by local volunteers involved in the recovery effort and Habel’s tireless work has made them “heroes.”

“There’s really no way to put it into words,” Wayne said. “Let’s put it this way, I love Amherst County.”

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Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547. 

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