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I was mesmerized and couldn’t move, but Roger shut the bathroom door, we embraced each other in a bear hug with Ambro between us and headed for our knees. We never made it. We were immediately air born. The roar of the tornado was so loud we did not hear anything going on around us. All we knew was we were being violently tossed around and there was nothing we could do but hang on to each other, we were at the mercy of the tornado and in the hands of God.
My parents had a single wide mobile home back behind our shop and I had no idea what they were going through. Roger felt the tornado trying to pull me away from him so he pulled me closer with everything he had. I remember screaming for my parents and then realized I couldn’t breath because my mouth and nose were full of insulation. My next thought was that I was going to die and I began praying.
After being pulverized by flying debris and 249 mile an hour winds, suddenly everything just stopped and I began spitting out insulation. There was no wind, no rain drops, no nothing. It was just an eeriness of silence. I opened my eyes, Roger was on his back, I was on top of him, he still had a hold of me, I had a hold of the shoulder of his shirt, there was a board between us and Ambro was cradled between the board and my arm. I didn’t even have a hold of him. He was unharmed, but quite traumatized. When we stood up, we were completely disoriented. From our surroundings, we didn’t really know where we were. We finally realized that we had landed 60 feet out in the parking lot. We turned towards the shop and saw there was nothing left but one half of a wall and the concrete slab. (Picture to the left) The other items in the picture are things people found in the road, across the street, and down the path the tornado had left. Then we looked toward our home and saw nothing but the concrete blocks. (picture left) As my eyes wandered toward mom and dad’s home, I feared it would not be there either and I wondered if we’d ever find them alive. I couldn’t see their home because trees had piled up in the way. I started to run and Roger grabbed me and told me we had to be sure we were alright first. I looked down to my feet, saw nothing wrong, said I’m fine and took off running. He was right beside me.
We got to the trees and as we went around them, I began to feel an aching sickness. I just knew it was going to be bad and I wasn’t sure how I would handle it. By the grace of God, there stood their home, in one piece. The car port was wrapped around a tree as were ladders and other items, their deck was ripped away and laying on the ground, but there were no windows broken and nothing had fallen off the walls.
As I walked through their back door, I remembered the scene in the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy walks out of a destroyed home into a beautiful, colorful, scene. Ours was the opposite.
A home never looked so good to me, but the most important thing was that mom and dad were completely unharmed. After making sure of that, I laid Ambro on the rug and walked in circles trying to decide where to sit down. I was soaking wet and covered in insulation, leaves, sticks, and dirt. I didn’t want sit on the furniture and could not rationalize that this was the least of my parents concerns. Mom pointed it out though and I collapsed on the couch. I looked up at Roger and he had blood running down the bridge of his nose, I looked him all over and saw that his right knee looked like raw meat and was bleeding profusely. I said, “we’ve got to get you to a hospital, and when I stood up, pain screamed through my upper body and I could barely breath. I said, “oh my, I’ve got to get there too.”
Mom and dad’s car just had a few dents, so we were going to take it, but when we got to the road, power lines were down and we were not going to cross them. We got out and started walking down the road. A neighbor saw us, told us to get in the truck, and he would get us to the hospital. A few feet down the road lay a huge tree, so we were going nowhere. There were only 2 ways to the main road, and both were blocked. However, the road crew was on the other side doing everything as quickly as possible to make a path. Finally we were on our way. I looked at Andy and said, I didn’t know you got a new truck, he said he didn’t. I asked him who’s truck we were in, he said he didn’t know, he’d find out when he got back.
When we got there, they took Roger one way and me another, which was definitely not to my liking. The last thing I needed right then was to be away from him. However, I did want them to take care of him, so dealt with it. He got stitches in his forehead and though his knee looked really bad, they said it would be ok, but he would have to stay off of it for a few weeks. His jaw was knocked loose and he had cuts in many places in his mouth. I had cracked ribs (which may have happened when he pulled me tight to him), and we were both bruised and had minor abrasions. When they brought him back to me, he asked how I was doing. Told him I’d be ok, and asked the same of him. He said he was fine, then his eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out. I began screaming and nurses and doctors came running. They rushed him out and due to my becoming hysterical, gave me a shot of something that very quickly calmed me down, though I fought falling asleep. They brought him back again, and said that he was fine. He had finally relaxed and his body had just given out. They put us in a room together, shot me up with morphine and I was gone. The only time I remember waking up was when they wheeled the food cart past my room. They nearly had to strap me down because the sound took me right back into the tornado and I freaked.
Roger, against the Doctors wishes, was released the next day. He said he wanted to go check on mom and dad. I was still pumped full of morphine and was out for 2 days. I was released on Friday, November 18. When I got back home, I was devastated. Our neighborhood looked like a bomb had gone off. Homes were gone, debris, trees, and material items laid everywhere. Praise God though, no one from our road was hurt bad. There was one fatality about a mile from us, and we pray for his family.
Our road was guarded by the National Guard due to looters. Can you imagine anyone going into this and stealing from people who have just lost everything? People who had been approved by the National Guard were everywhere trying to clean up the mess. Neither Roger nor I could do much of anything due to our injuries, but God sent many many angels to help in the cleanup, from our families and friends to people we had never met and have never seen since.
Though mom and dad’s home was still standing, we found it was only barely doing so. It had moved a foot and a half off the foundation and the pillars were all leaning. It was ready to fall over. A friend came right after we left for the hospital and took them to her house which was in our same area, but not in the path of the tornado. They were later evacuated due to no power, water, and a gas leak. Mom, dad, and Ambro were taken to a shelter and later moved to a motel. That’s where Roger found them. On Friday, we were able to obtain a townhouse in the resort down the road where we spent the next 4 months.
Once we were able to function again, we began rebuilding. We moved back home in March, 2006, and reopened the business on May 1, 2006.
We had to purchase everything from toothpicks to a home. We lost everything we owned and all the information on our business. We had it backed up at our house, never thinking we would loose them both at once. We had to close checking and credit card accounts and reopen them all. We had no idea where any of it was or who might get a hold of it. A woman called us from Madisonville, KY, which is 100 miles from us. She had found our bank statement in her field. Next to it was the shirt our daughter had on the day we adopted her. She sent them both back to us.
We had to deal with Insurance on our home, business, 2 vehicles, plus take care of mom and dad’s home and auto insurance claims. Our business insurance company told us they believed we had certain things but since we didn’t have documentation they didn’t have to pay for those. We got some, but nothing compared to what we lost. It will take years to recover and undo the damage that was done in just 20 seconds.
There is no doubt that God saved the five of us and our neighbors. Many have said it was a miracle that we survived. We agree!! God has gotten us through the last 7 years one day at a time, but He always lets us know He is taking care of us and that we will someday recover from this nightmare.
The tornado was a quarter mile wide and was on the ground for 12 miles. Never underestimate the power of nature or the Grace of God!! They are both greater than anything you can imagine.
Our many thanks to all of the volunteers that helped in the clean up and rebuilding. May God bless you all! All glory goes to God for saving us all.
Onna Lee & Roger Ford