Michael Santana stayed in hotels every single night for more than three weeks after one of the 15 Memorial Day tornadoes left him homeless, racking up thousands in bills for the rooms alone.
The 27-year-old veteran and Wright State University nursing student spent many days wondering where he’d go next, never able to stay more than a week at any hotel, he said. Majority of his time was spent looking for a place to stay that wasn’t fully booked already and that would allow him to have his two parrots, lizard and hamster.
During his stays at hotels, he said his animals suffered because they went from large cages and flying freely throughout the day to small cages that were easy to transport and they rarely were allowed out.
It also interrupted his visiting schedule with his two young daughters that would stay at his house every other week before a tree branch shot through the wall of his Riverside house at Overlook Homes, totally destroying it and pinning him in his bathroom for nearly an hour.
But last Friday Santana moved into his new house in the same neighborhood. He also recently bought a car and found a replacement motorcycle. He has insurance, but he said he worries that it won’t cover all of his hotel stays and knows the wait for payments could be long.
“It’s a lot of stress. It’s getting better, but for anyone who hasn’t lost all their stuff…you won’t really be able to understand the type of stress that puts you through,” he said.
In total, he said he lost more than $30,000 in assets during the storm, including his car, motorcycle, bed, some games, computer hardware, tools and all of his daughters’ bedding. It could take a full year to fully recover financially from eating up much of his savings — and that’s if he starts putting aside more money every month, he said.
Even having a roof over his head, Santana said he is far from back on his feet. He is sleeping on his couch in a home with no air conditioning. He said the three things he’s looking forward to most now are returning to normal with his daughters and receiving his air conditioner and new bed.
He’s also struggled to complete school work following the storm with no vehicle to get him to classes and mental health concerns that have made homework difficult. He’s not fully giving up on the semester, but said it’s near impossible to not take F’s in some of the courses because he’s missed so much.
That could set him back on his decade-long education toward nursing degrees because some of those classes are only offered at certain times and are prerequisites to other courses.
“I’m still suffering some pretty significant depression and anxiety, especially when I start to see the sky getting gray,” Santana said. “Am I going to be able to move on a day that it’s not raining? Is there going to be another tornado that comes and wrecks my new house.”
Santana will likely talk to a therapist and said he hopes others who are struggling in the aftermath of the 15 Memorial Day tornadoes will do the same.
“This mainly goes out to men, there’s nothing cowardly about looking for help when you need it. It’s not complaining. You’re going to get help for yourself and it’s important to keep yourself healthy for your family and your friends. If you don’t, you can’t help anybody else,” he said.
The community rally around the victims has surprised Santana. He said he traditionally has always thought people haven’t been the best toward others.
There are people worse off than him, though, so he hasn’t taken advantage of any donations or the financial assistance aside from a small Veterans Affairs subsidy for his renter’s insurance deductible.
“Humans are creatures of habit. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you create some kind of habits…When it’s not there or gets taken from you for some reason, it really stings.”
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