Marbury, Ala. — An Alabama engine mechanic takes shelter in a shipping container as a violent tornado destroys his shop and kills two of his neighbors on its path of destruction across Alabama and Georgia.
The harrowing stories of David Hollon and other survivors of Thursday’s storm are emerging as residents comb through the rubble of the tornado and blistering winds that left at least nine dead.
In rural Autauga County, Alabama, where at least seven people died, Hollon and his crew saw a huge tornado churning toward them. They need shelter – immediately.
Hollon said they ran into a metal shipping container near the back of his garage because the container was anchored to the floor with concrete. Once inside, Hollon began frantically dialing his neighbor on the phone. But when they heard the garage had been torn apart by the storm, the call kept going to voicemail.
The storm passed and they emerged, only to find her neighbor’s body in the street, she said. Another neighbor across the street also died, a family member said.
“I think we did a lot better than most. We’re damaged, but we’re still here,” Hollon, 52, said in an interview Saturday, as he walked through the remains of his garage, a field littered with wrecked cars, shattered glass, broken tree limbs, broken wood and broken wood. Other debris.
Leahia Johnson, a 54-year-old cafeteria worker who also lives in Autauga County, stood among the scattered remains of her trailer home. He pointed to a tall pile of rubble that he identified as his bedroom, bathroom and kitchen.
A swing set in his backyard is now across the street, tucked into some trees. His outdoor trampoline was wrapped around another set of trees in the neighbor’s front yard.
“The trailer should be here, and now it’s not,” Johnson said, pointing to a slab covered in debris, “and it’s all over the place now.”
The storm brought powerful twisters and winds to Alabama and Georgia that toppled trees, blew away mobile homes, 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.
Early on Sunday, President Md Joe Biden Alabama declared a major disaster 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 caused damage consistent with an EF3, two levels below the strongest 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 launched into the air.
Residents described chaotic scenes as the storm barreled towards them. People rushed to shelters, bathtubs and sheds as the wind blew. In one case, a search crew found five people inside a storm shelter, trapped but unharmed, after the wall of a nearby house collapsed.
Downtown Selma suffered severe damage before the worst of the weather moved south of Atlanta across Georgia. No deaths were reported in Selma.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said the loss was felt across his state. Some of the worst reports came from Troup County, near the Georgia-Alabama line, where more than 100 homes were damaged.
Kemp is a state Dr transport Department personnel were killed while responding to storm damage. A 5-year-old child has died after a car was struck by a falling tree in Buttes 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 had struck.
Johnson, a cafeteria worker in Autauga County, said he was at work when he learned the storm would pass directly over his home. She quickly alerted her daughter, who had her 2-year-old grandson at home.
“I called my daughter and said, ‘You don’t have time to go out, you have to go somewhere now,'” Johnson said, his voice cracking. “And she said, ‘I’m getting in the tub. If the house is messy, I’m going to be in the tub area.’
The call was cut. Johnson started calling again. When he finally reconnected with his daughter, Johnson said she told him: “Home is gone, home is gone.”
Johnson said her daughter and grandson had some cuts and bruises but were otherwise fine after a trip to the emergency room.
“I brought him home and tried not to let him go after that,” Johnson said. “I have lost a lot materially and I don’t have insurance but I don’t care, because my child is fine.
“That’s what really matters to me.”