Doug Keeney's story:
Hero Receives New Home And The Hope For A Better Way of Life
For weeks after the tornado, Doug Keeney couldn’t sleep.
It wasn’t because of the recurring pictures in his head of the massive destruction, the sound of the tornado or the screams afterward.
It was because Doug no longer had a home to return to and no means to afford another one.
“I had worked all that time to get a house,” he explains as he talks about his house on Virginia Avenue, literally in the path of the tornado. “My plans were to retire there and die there. No mortgage. I didn’t have to worry about a mortgage company taking my house. If I had to pick up aluminum cans, I could do that. I knew that I could survive it, live, retire and die there. I had all this planned. I had the rest of my life set.”
And within a few seconds, his plans were gone.
“The storm warnings started about 5 p.m. I remember the sirens going off. I remember watching the tower camera on the news. They said a tornado was on the ground headed toward Joplin. I thought it would pick up and be gone. Tornados never stay on the ground for very long,” he recalls, sweeping his gray hair back from his forehead. “The wind started picking up, so just to play it safe, I went across the alley and went into Arby’s and told them to take cover that there was a tornado on the ground.”
Doug planned to run back to his house to grab his wallet and keys and join his friends in the Arby’s cooler. But he never made it. He said the sky took on a strange color and he realized he didn’t have much time. Thinking quickly, he rushed to his bedroom to get some blankets to put over his head.
“My front door blew open, I went to shut it. I remember having to hold the door with all my strength…it was like 10 people on the other side pushing on that door. The door blew open and pinned me up against the center wall of my house, the windows blew out.”
Doug held on to the door for shelter for as long as he could.
“I remember thinking at that time that I was going to die and I wasn’t afraid. I said ‘Please God save me, help me.’ So I ducked down and waited until the noise ended.”
When he opened his eyes and stood up, the door that had been his only shelter was gone, along with most of his home. The only thing left were the shattered remains of the two rooms behind him.
Instead of mourning his own loss, however, Doug quickly began to think of his friends and neighbors. His first thought was the Arby’s employees.
“I went over to check on them. The girl was crying hysterically. I remember turning around and looking toward my house and seeing a black car on my house. It was laying upside down and flattened,” he said. “I went over to it. I hollered in to it and asked if they were okay and they said yes. I found out a few days later that it was an elderly couple driving down Main Street. They were uninjured. “
From there, Doug would run down the street to what used to be the home of a young couple and two children. Despite his yelling for them, the ruble remained still and quiet.
He moved on to his neighbors across the street, beginning a search for them.
“I went across the street from my house and hollered at them and heard their voice and crawled through the debris and they didn’t have any rooms standing. I found them in the bathroom,” he recalls. “They had tried to make it into the bathroom and couldn’t make it into the tub. The tub was lifted up by the tornado and was on top of her. It probably saved her. I tried to get them out, but the door that it was on the daughter had so much debris on it, I couldn’t move it. By that time, there were strangers who had come to help. Then I heard the mother from down the street screaming. I ran down to her house and we started digging through the debris and hollering trying to find the kids and the father. They were in the closet. They were fine.”
Doug says he always wondered if he was the type of person to be able to jump into the water to save someone drowning or into a burning building to pull people out. He says he now knows he is that type of person and for that he is grateful. So too, is Joplin. He was among several recognized for their heroism that day. Had it not been for his efforts, many more people would have been injured or killed.
Hours later, after digging numerous people out from the rubble, Doug would take refuge in a Walgreen’s parking lot where he would be found by his half brother.
“Then someone came up from behind me and hugged me. It was my half brother. He was crying. He had put me on the missing person list. He took me home.”
Before the storm
Doug had not worked a steady job since 2006. He had worked in construction all his life. As the economy began to fail, so too did his job opportunities. However, after the tornado, he was able to secure full time work with the Workforce Investment Board. For several months, he was once again able to work a full time job.
Additionally, Doug received money from FEMA, but it wasn’t enough.
“Thirty thousand isn’t going to do anything,” he says. “No job, no credit. I thought maybe I could sell the land, buy me a Winnebago and travel the rest of my life.”
His caseworker attempted to get him grants for his heroism, but Doug says none of them came through. He was $20,000 short for any type or rebuild.
And then, things changed. Doug was identified as a hero by a news crew after his co-workers relayed his efforts. A local reporter interviewed him and that is when Karen Benson, Director of Global Disaster Response with Convoy of Hope saw his story.
Convoy of Hope has donated the money Doug didn’t have, combining it with his FEMA money. Doug will not be left to wander the highways in a Winnebago or spend his last several years living with family members.
The new home provided to Doug will be built with the help of Convoy of Hope under the direction of George Van Huesen, managing partner of Global Green Building and General Contractor for the project. The home will be constructed out of a concrete building system from TF Forming Systems. The home will be engineered to be hyper energy-efficient and disaster-resistant.
Van Heusen says because of the way the TF Forming System is designed and engineered, the concrete walls and rigid foam insulation will provide extreme energy efficiency for Doug. Yet another thing he did not have before.
“The way I lived before, the house was built in 1909 and dad had tried to insulate it. It leaked like a sieve,” he says, smiling. “I was on level pay. I was paying $86 a month just for gas. I was turning the thermostat back to 60 degrees at night and using an electric blanket to try to stay warm.”
Doug says during the summer months, he had one small window air conditioner in the living room. It was only toward the end of July and into August when Missouri days reach into the 100-degree mark that he would even think about turning on the air. Even then, to offset costs, he would put sheets and blankets over the doorways and windows, attempting to insulate the room and keep the cool air isolated to one room.
Between electric and gas, Doug was paying more than $150 a month in utilities and he was either freezing or burning up.
In his new home, the estimated utility bill will be between $50-$75 per month, allowing Doug to afford insurance and the other basic necessities to live, as well as living comfortably.
“I am so grateful for this house. My house is going to be built to stand 200 mph winds,” he says, smiling. His blue eyes sparkle. “My friends ask me if I have a safe room. I tell them that I don’t need one, my whole house is a safe room.”
Construction will begin in a few short weeks. The lack of a home hasn’t stopped Doug from doing what he’s been doing for many years. Each morning, he gets a cup of coffee and drives to what used to be his home. He parks where his front porch used to be and drinks his coffee, watching the city wake up around him.
Very soon, he will have a porch again.
“I’m blessed,” he says, eyes bright with anticipation. “Just having my life spared has been enough. Everything else has been a wonderful surprise.”