When the tornadoes hit, survivors hid in bathtubs, shipping containers

When the tornadoes hit, survivors hid in bathtubs, shipping containers

When the tornadoes hit, survivors hid in bathtubs, shipping containers

An Alabama motor mechanic took refuge in a shipping container as a tornado from a severe storm decimated his workshop 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 emerge as residents navigate the rubble caused by tornadoes and high winds that killed at least nine people.

In rural Autauga County, Alabama, where at least seven people died, Hollon and his workers saw a huge tornado heading their way. They had to take cover – immediately.

Hollon said they came across a metal shipping container near the back of his garage because the container had been anchored to the ground with concrete. Once inside, Hollon began frantically calling his neighbor on the phone. But as they heard the garage being devastated by the storm, the call continued to voicemail.

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

“I guess we did a lot better than most. We suffered damage, but we are still here,” Hollon, 52, said in an interview on Saturday as he walked through the remains of his garage, crossing a field littered with battered cars, broken glass, broken tree branches, splintered wood and other debris.

Leighea Johnson, a 54-year-old cafeteria worker who also lives in Autauga County, stood among the scattered remains of her trailer. She pointed to a large pile of rubble which she identified as her bedroom, her bathroom and her kitchen.

A swing she had in her backyard was now across the street, mutilated among some trees. His outdoor trampoline had been wrapped around another set of trees in a neighbor’s front yard.

“The trailer should be there, and now it isn’t,” Johnson said, pointing to a debris-covered slab, “And it’s everywhere now.”

The storm brought tornadoes and powerful winds to Alabama and Georgia that uprooted trees, sent mobile homes flying, derailed a freight train, flipped cars, cracked utility poles and downed power lines, leaving thousands of people without electricity. According to the National Weather Service, suspected tornado damage has been reported in at least 14 counties in Alabama and 14 counties in Georgia.

Early Sunday, President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Alabama and ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts in affected areas.

Autauga County officials said the tornado had winds of at least 136 mph (218 km/h) and level damage consistent with an EF3, two steps below the strongest category of tornado. County officials said at least a dozen people were hospitalized and around 40 homes were destroyed or badly damaged, including trailers thrown into the air.

Residents described chaotic scenes as the storm turned towards them. People rushed into shelters, tubs and sheds as the winds blew. In one case, a search team found five people, trapped but uninjured, inside a storm shelter after a wall from a nearby house fell on them.

Downtown Selma suffered severe damage before the worst weather conditions moved through Georgia south of Atlanta. No deaths have been reported in Selma.

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

Kemp said a state Department of Transportation employee was killed while responding to storm damage. A 5-year-old child who was 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 struck.

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

“I called my daughter and I said, ‘You don’t have time to go out, you have to go somewhere now,’ Johnson said, her voice cracking. ‘And she said, ‘I’m going in the tub. If the house is messy, I’ll be in the tub area.

The call was interrupted. Johnson kept calling back. When she finally reunited with her daughter, Johnson said she told him, “Home is gone, home is gone.”

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

“I took her home and tried not to let her go after that,” Johnson said. “I lost a lot of things materially and I don’t have insurance but I don’t care, because my child is fine.

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

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