As tornadoes hit, survivors hid in tubs, shipping container

As tornadoes hit, survivors hid in tubs, shipping container

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MARBURY, Ala. (AP) – An Alabama auto mechanic took shelter in a shipping container after a tornado from a violent storm destroyed his shop and killed two of his neighbors along its destructive path through Alabama and Georgia.

The harrowing stories of David Hollon and other survivors of Thursday’s storm are emerging as residents comb through the wreckage caused by tornadoes and raging winds that have killed at least nine people.

In rural Alabama’s Autauga County, where at least seven people have died, Hollon and his workers saw a massive tornado barreling toward them. They had to go to the shelter – immediately.

Hollon said they ran into a metal shipping container near the back of his garage because the container was anchored to the concrete floor. Once inside, Hollon began frantically calling his neighbor on the phone. But as they heard the garage being ripped apart by the storm, the call kept going to voicemail.

The storm passed and they got out, only to find his neighbor’s body in the street, he said. Another neighbor down the street had also died, a family member said.

“I think we did a lot better than most. We took damage, but we’re still here,” Hollon, 52, said in an interview Saturday as he walked through the remains of his garage, past a field littered with battered cars, shattered glass, snapped tree limbs. , wood chips and other waste.

Leighea Johnson, a 54-year-old coffee shop worker who also lives in Autauga County, stood amid the scattered remains of her trailer home. She pointed to a long pile of rubble that she identified as her bedroom, bathroom and kitchen.

A swing set that she had in her backyard was now across the street, corroded between some trees. Her outdoor trampoline was wrapped around another set of trees in a neighbor’s front yard.

“The trailer should be here, and now it’s not,” Johnson said, pointing to a plaque covered in debris, “And now it’s everywhere.”

The storm brought powerful twisters and winds to Alabama and Georgia that uprooted trees, sent mobile homes airborne, derailed a freight train, overturned cars, snapped utility poles and downed power lines, leaving thousands without power. Suspected tornado damage was reported in at least 14 counties in Alabama and 14 counties in Georgia, according to the National Weather Service.

Autauga County officials said the tornado had winds of at least 136 mph (218 km/h) and leveled damage consistent with an EF3, two steps below the most powerful category of twisters. County authorities said at least a dozen people were hospitalized and about 40 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, including mobile homes that were blown up.

Residents described chaotic scenes as the storm rolled toward them. People rushed to shelters, tubs and sheds as the winds blew. In one case, a search team found five people, trapped but unharmed, inside a storm shelter after a wall from a nearby house collapsed on it.

Downtown Selma sustained heavy damage before the worst of the weather moved across Georgia south of Atlanta. No deaths were reported in Selma.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said the damage was felt throughout his state. Some of the worst reports came from Troup County near the Georgia-Alabama line, where more than 100 homes were hit.

Kemp said a state transportation department worker was killed while responding to storm damage. A 5-year-old child who was riding in a vehicle was killed by a falling tree in Butts County, Georgia, authorities said. At least 12 people were treated at a hospital in Spalding County, south of Atlanta, where the weather service confirmed at least two tornadoes touched down.

Johnson, the coffee shop worker in Autauga County, said she was at work when she learned the storm would pass directly over her home. She quickly alerted her daughter, who was home with her 2-year-old grandson.

“I called my daughter and said, ‘You don’t have time to go out, you have to get somewhere now,'” Johnson said, in her own voice. “And she said, ‘I’m getting in the tub. If the house is a mess, I’ll be in the tub area.'”

The call rang. Johnson kept calling. When she was finally reunited with her daughter, Johnson said she told her, “The house is gone, the house is gone.”

Her daughter and grandson had several cuts and bruises but were fine after a trip to the emergency room, Johnson said.

“I brought it home and tried not to leave it behind,” Johnson said. “I’ve lost a lot of things materially and I don’t have insurance, but I don’t even care, because my child is fine.

“That’s really all that matters to me.”

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