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Marriage proposal survives storm

Curtis Crowder proposed to Regina Kowalska on Saturday, but not in some fancy restaurant.

Instead, he proposed while standing in a ransacked garage that had lost its roof earlier in the day.

This isn't just any engagement story. It's the story of a man, a woman and a tornado.

Eight days before, Crowder and Kowalska bought their first house, at 10730 Oakhaven. At $70,500, it seemed like a great deal: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, with a beautiful pool beneath a tall oak tree. They did not dream a tornado would hit a week later.

All week, Crowder, 26, and Kowalska, 21, moved in their things. They refinished the parquet floors, put in carpet and painted the walls. Saturday morning, they drove to Home Depot and bought latex paint and brushes for the door jambs.

While they were out, police blocked off the Autumn Run neighborhood. That was when they started thinking about the tornado reports they had heard earlier.

They saw damaged homes as they came to their new house. "She just started screaming and crying," Crowder said. He had one thought: "Glad I wasn't in it."

The tornado ripped the roof off most of their house and laid rafters over the swimming pool. The oak was uprooted and now sits in a neighbor's yard, three houses down.

Inside, shards of glass and hunks of drywall covered the floor. Bits of insulation were everywhere. The walls _ at least the walls that were standing _ still had their fresh coat of paint.

Crowder got scared. Among the $10,000 worth of household goods he estimates that he lost, there was one thing he could not afford to do without.

Crowder and Kowalska had discussed marriage but had not made it official. He had hidden a ring in the garage, inside a box next to a Walt Disney World hat and a race car helmet. He checked the wreckage of the garage; the ring wasn't there.

"I looked all around and couldn't find anything," Crowder said. The diamond ring had belonged to his great-grandmother and was about 100 years old. "If we didn't find it, I didn't know what I'd do."

Then, suddenly, he saw the velvet case _ soggy, sandy, but there.

He, wearing his LA Gear T-shirt and black pants, asked if Kowalska would marry him. In her International Surf Club T-shirt, she said yes. The date is Jan. 2.

Kowalska is happy to be engaged, but that's not the only thing she's grateful for.

"I'm just glad he's okay," she said.