'Tornado house' family celebrates first family reunion after hurricane

'Tornado house' family celebrates first family reunion after hurricane

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Nine months after Hurricane Matthew ripped through the Atlantic coast, the Blake family is celebrating their hurricane recovery through family, tradition and seeing the silverlining.

"We thought about putting a big poster down there to show what it used to look like before we re-did it," homeowner Gary Blake said.  The home's remodel makes it almost unrecognizable to those who knew it before Matthew hit.

For people who've known the home for years, it's remembered for the sign that reads, "Blake's," hanging from the upper deck.  For many in the Carolinas, it's remembered affectionately as "the tornado house."

"People say. 'Oh yeah, this is the tornado house, your house was on the news,'" Blake said.

The home was the center of North Myrtle Beach hurricane coverage the Saturday afternoon Hurricane Matthew hit.  It was the first reported tornado in the storm for South Carolina.  Attention switched to a strengthened hurricane and the Cherry Grove fire later that evening.

The tornado house raised questions for those watching.  For the reporters in the field, the family was in their thoughts.  It was a few weeks later that Gary Blake met WMBF News reporter Meredith Helline as she checked up on the house.

"We didn't board up the windows. We thought, 'Eh, it's not going to happen that much,'" Blake said.  "Our neighbor backed his boat under our house as best he could to keep it from getting damaged. And that's the part that fell on his boat."

Blake said he stopped by a few days before the hurricane to bring in the grill and American flag.  After the hurricane, a home needing to be completely gutted, with it's shell laying in the yard, was left.

Blake's father built the home in 1984 to keep his four sons and future family close.

"My father wanted a family house for everybody to come and enjoy. And that's the reason the house has five bedrooms. And you can sleep four or five people in each room," he said.

Blake's daughter, Kristin, said she grew up in the home.  She watches her nieces run down the halls as she did growing up, and calls "Blake's" her paradise.

The home sleeps as many as 25 Blakes coming to the beach to catch up.  The first members of the family arrived for their first family vacation since the hurricane the week of July 4. They look forward to the rest of the family arriving over the weekend.

Despite the devastation, the family said in a way, it's been a blessing.  At almost 34 years old, the home was in need of renovations, and they explain the hurricane made it the perfect time to do them.

Blake said landscaping will be finished in the fall.  Until then, he's looking forward to hanging the "uninhabitable" sign the city left on the door to keep them out after the hurricane.  No longer uninhabitable, the family is enjoying the home and plans to continue their traditions for many more years of Blakes.

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