Oklahoma tornadoes: Family is among a dozen to rent homes donated by Bank of America

The Bala and Galarneau families of Moore finally find stability, a half year after the May 20 tornado, in a home rented from Neighborhood Housing Services, which received a dozen houses donated by Bank of America. It's more than a moving story.
by Richard Mize Modified: January 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm •  Published: January 4, 2014

It will not be — could not possibly be — the same, but the Bala family, finally, is settled in new quarters after six months of uncertainty following the May 20 tornado.

“We walked in the door and it felt like home,” Dana Bala said of the place she and her husband, Charles, are renting on Southridge Drive near SW 104 and May Avenue.

It's a fine rental — 1,688 square feet, three bedrooms, two baths, built in 1979, freshly renovated — but it could never compare with the home they rented in Moore until the tornado destroyed it around them.

Not even with daughter Shannan Galarneau, her husband, David, and their 18-year-old son, Matthew, sharing their new place, just as they did at the home in Moore. It fell with others and nearby Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven pupils died.

Missing in the new house are daughter Kristi Conatzer, her husband, Christopher, and their children, who also shared the Moore home. After the storm and so much destruction and chaos, the Conatzers found their own place, needed their own space.

Forever absent from both houses, her parents' and her grandparents', is 9-year-old Emily, her love of unicorns, her singing and dancing, her admiration for Lady Gaga's off-the-wall fashion style, her dreams of Paris and becoming a fashion designer. Emily died at Plaza Towers, breaking hearts in three close-knit families, saddling both places with conspicuous silence.

‘It's been hard'

“We lived a block and a half from Plaza Towers School. I had two granddaughters in Plaza Towers — one died and one survived. And I had another, a grandson, who was at Southmoore High School,” Dana Bala said this week as she recalled May 20, the sad days and four moves, from one shoddy rental to another, that followed over the next half year.

“That tornado barely missed them. That was the most horrible night of my life. I don't ever want to go through that again,” she said. “It's been hard. I don't have my girls. They were living with us at the time — all my kids were, my granddaughters and all. It's hard being without them right now, here. But we're trying to do the best we can.”

She said they found the house on Southridge at just the right time: After so much upheaval, they were desperate for a sense of permanence. The Balas are renting the house from nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services of Oklahoma City, which received it as a donation from Bank of America, with renovations by NeighborWorks America.

Shannan Galarneau said it was clear from the first look that they had found what they needed and wanted.

‘Stability'

“The minute we walked in the door, it was like — just a big feeling of home and stability,” she said. “Yup. And I'm not going to lie: Whenever we saw it, the first thing I did, I went to NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, online) and checked the records for tornado activity. There's next to none, so it was even more of a comfort.”

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by Richard Mize
Real Estate Editor
Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked...
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We walked in the door and it felt like home.”

Dana Bala,

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