When Frank Hardy and Stan Smith ran with the same teenage crowd in 1980s-era Pratt City, Alabama, they had no idea that, decades later, a devastating tornado and a pile of rubble would bring them together again.
Smith became an architect and building consultant for the American Plywood Association, and eventually settled in Atlanta as president of FD Moon & Co. doing residential design and construction. Hardy stayed in Pratt City, which is a small suburb of Birmingham. He served in the Army before eventually going to work for a trucking firm.
Frank Hardy, left, and his old friend and architect Stan Smith share a laugh during construction on Hardy’s new house in Pratt City. Smith, with a crew from his Atlanta-based FD Moon & Co., is coordinating Hardy's rebuild using storm-resistant construction methods. FEMA Photo/Ruth Kennedy
Hardy was on a long haul in April 2011 when tornadoes struck Alabama. He’d bought his split-level brick house in Pratt City in April 2005 and left it in the care of a friend when he was on the road. On April 27, Hardy’s friend, her daughter and grandmother took refuge in the home’s basement when they heard that a massive tornado was headed their way.
“I’d always told them that if we had a storm, they should get in the hall closet,” Hardy said ruefully, “but they all got down behind the basement couch and put the sofa cushions over their heads.”
Almost all the house was demolished, but the women survived without harm. They emerged to find the neighbor’s blue pickup truck lying on what was left of Hardy’s front porch and strips of metal and wood decking strewn across a wide swath of land where a neighborhood of homes once had stood. Almost everything Frank Hardy owned had been blown away or destroyed.
Hardy sped back to Pratt City, where he found the neighborhood pitch black and cordoned off with yellow tape. When police patrols finally let him drive into the neighborhood the next morning, he was sick at heart. “At first I couldn’t even tell where my house had been,” he said. “All my landmarks were gone – the street signs, the trees. I figured out which pile of rubble was mine by finding the concrete culvert where my driveway had been.”
He knew one of his prize possessions lay under the debris, and had little hope that it could have survived the storm. “But I got down there and started pulling stuff off the place where the garage had been, and there it was.”
Hardy’s gleaming Harley-Davidson Electra Glide motorcycle rolled out unscathed. “With everything else that had happened,” Hardy said, smiling, “that was a proud moment.”
Looking ahead, Hardy knew he wanted to stay in Pratt City. “I’d lived here all my life,’ he said. “I liked my neighborhood and I liked my house. I really didn’t like the idea of buying somebody else’s house – a house somebody else had built to suit himself.”
He wanted to rebuild to his own tastes, “but I sure didn’t want my next house to end up like this one,” he said. Then he thought of Stan, who was now a successful architect. Hardy was sure his old friend would give him good advice.
Hardy didn’t know it, bu...