After Mary Jane Mattull's house collapsed around her Saturday, her fears about what might be lost forever focused on a single plastic box: the container that held her husband's ashes.
Robert Mattull, a 48-year-old disabled welder, died three weeks ago. His last wish was that his wife spread his ashes across the gulf waters at Fort Myers Beach, where they had honeymooned.
Saturday, a tornado leveled the Mattull home in the Autumn Run subdivision. Mrs. Mattull found herself digging out of the debris and wondering if she could still carry out her husband's request.
"I crawled out and I asked myself how much I could take," Mrs. Mattull, 44, recalled Sunday morning as she salvaged dolls and family pictures from the wreckage of her home. "The main thing I was concerned about after I knew my daughter was safe was my husband's ashes."
The Mattulls bought the home on Cedarbrook Drive in 1984. The house was on a corner lot, had two big oaks and an apple tree in the yard, and was catty-corner from the Autumn Run community pool.
Sunday, only one of the oaks remained upright. Wedged against the other was the family's 1979 Dodge Aspen. The station wagon flipped several times and came to rest on its side between the fallen tree and the ruins of the garage.
Mrs. Mattull, a hostess at Leverock's restaurant, said her husband died after being hospitalized with a diabetic infection. She said she thinks a blood clot broke free and caused his heart to fail.
After his death, she put his cremated remains on a bedroom shelf and set out to fix up the family home. The first thing she did was hire a contractor to put on a new roof. The $4,700 roof was finished a few days ago.
A good chunk of the new roof ended up on the precious plastic box that held her husband's ashes.
"It took several men to lift up the roof beams so we could get the box out," said Mrs. Mattull.
Now, Mrs. Mattull can carry out plans for her family to take Robert Mattull's remains to a favorite spot at Fort Myers Beach.
"You know," Mrs. Mattull said Sunday, "My daughter had a dream last night that her dad appeared and asked if we were okay.
"I feel somewhere he must be watching over us or we might not have made it through this."