Vignettes from the devastation across the South

AP News
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Posted: Apr 28, 2011 5:14 PM
Vignettes from the devastation across the South

The owner of a funeral home spent Thursday cleaning up the remains of his business, even as phone calls came in to handle final arrangements for the storm's victims.

Moore Funeral Home has been in Larry Moore's family since 1945. On Thursday, a small bulldozer pushed snapped timber supports, insulation and roofing shingles into a dump truck while workers swept up glass from blown-out windows and collected computers and records from an office littered with debris.

"We had just remodeled two years ago: new furniture, new carpet. The only thing not damaged is our grandfather clock," Moore said.

At least two people were killed in Trenton's Dade County, which borders Tennessee and Alabama in the far northwestern corner of Georgia. Moore said he has received calls to handle services for at least two killed in the storms and he expects more calls. Moore owns another chapel a few miles away that he plans to use.

The funeral home's shelter might have saved the lives of one family. The woman who cleans the business called Moore after storms uprooted trees in her yard. She and her two children took refuge in the funeral home's basement.

"That's what saved her, I guess. It was over in just a matter of seconds. She called 911 and emergency crews had to help her get out," Moore said. "Her dinner was still sitting on the cafeteria table when we got here today."

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TRENTON, Ga. (AP) _ A mother and her two adult daughters rode out the storm in a tanning bed at the salon where she worked, while the roof opened up above and debris swirled around them.

Lisa Rice, owner of S&L Tans, said was working in the salon with her daughters Stormy, 19, and Sky, 21, around 6 p.m. when her husband called to say a tornado warning had been issued.

"I'd already told the girls which bed we were going to climb into if we need to. So, we got in it and closed it on top of us," Rice said. "Sky said, 'we're going to die.' But, I said, no, just pray. Just pray, just pray, just pray."

She said they could hear the cracking of the roof coming off and feel the air rushing over the tanning bed as it shook. It lasted about 30 seconds.

"Then it just stopped. It got real quiet. We waited few minutes and then opened up the bed and we saw daylight," she said.

Rice said they were able to climb out the back door of the tanning salon, which they just opened three weeks ago. They did not have insurance.

"We're still alive. We still have our home. We have a lot to be thankful for," she said.

Rice said this is the second time her family survived a tornado. The first time was in 1992, when winds took off the roof and blew out the windows of their home in Rising Fawn.

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SMITHVILLE, Miss. (AP) _ There isn't much left of Smithville Baptist Church, a red brick building with about 350 parishioners in this northeastern Mississippi town where at least 13 people were killed.

Entire sections of the building are flattened. The second story is gone. A cadaver dog looked for bodies in the rubble. At least the choir robes were untouched and unsullied.

"They're perfectly white," Pastor Wes White called out Thursday when he discovered the robes as he sifted through the wreckage.

White said a group of residents from a nearby mobile home park knocked on the church door just before the storm hit, asking for shelter. They went to sturdy section of the church where they hung onto one another and anything they could grab "like a mass of humanity" as the building disintegrated.

The red jeep that some mobile home residents drove to the church was left on its side inside the church office.

"You can't just bring in some generators and fix something like this. You can't just put up a tarp. There's nothing left. We are going to have families displaced for a long time," he said.

"How do reconcile something like this? It's not possible. But there are truths in life. There's a God whose ways are higher than our ways. And if you don't have faith, you don't have anything."

The church plans to have a service in a tent Sunday, a week after Easter. The sermon: "resurrection in life."

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. (AP) _ In the scattered communities of rural eastern Tennessee, the storms rolled through quickly but their destruction was complete.

In Bradley County, northeast of Chattanooga, storms killed at least nine people.

Larry Manning, 34, stood outside the remains of his house Thursday describing how he and his mother heard howling winds and ran inside Wednesday night. He said he was on his sofa watching media storm alerts but had not seen any indication that his Blue Spring Lane community was about to be slammed.

"There was nothing that seemed imminent," he said.

His mother, Linda Manning, said the noisy wind pummeled the house for several minutes.

"It seemed like forever," she said.

In Greene County, about 70 miles east of Knoxville, Duke Nelson, 50, his under a pool table as the storm tore apart his house. He was lucky to be in a part of the home that was not destroyed.

The home of his sister Rhonda, 46, was completely destroyed. She was at work Wednesday night when the storm came through. On Thursday, she was sorting through the rubble for her belongings and had found some Polaroid photographs, a Bible and a set of kitchen knives. But she said the only important thing was that her brother was alive.

"He's still here. That's all that matters," she said. "Everything else may be gone, but he's still here. We can't replace him."

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GLADE SPRING, Va. (AP) _ A path of ties, socks, Ken dolls, lumber and power tools stretched from the rear of Shelby Lester's home to a neighbor's home, across a creek and up the side of a small valley.

Holding a shard of broken glass, Lester, 69, says the debris came from the storage shed that once stood behind her storm-battered house in Glade Spring, about 30 miles northeast of Bristol, Va.

Lester said the sky took on a funny yellow tint Wednesday evening and she warned her husband: "I told Fred there's a tornado coming."

Sometime around 1 a.m. she heard the storm coming and they ran to a small bathroom to hunker down.

"We just started praying," Lester said. "The house was swaying."

The crash of a tree crushing part of the roof of her hillside house woke neighbor Judy Alderman, 56.

She and her husband raced across their house, noting it was raining in one room where the roof was ripped off.

They reached the garage and hid under some wooden steps.

"When I got up this morning, I just looked out and said, `Wow.'"

Alderman's roof was ripped away in chunks, dozens of trees and limbs littered the yard and the lawn was raked with deep gouges where something had torn its way across the neighborhood and blasted away the roof of one last house before topping the ridge.

"When it stopped, it just got calm," Alderman said.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) _ The rivalry between the University of Alabama and Auburn University might be one of the fiercest in college football, but it took a timeout for the devastation in Tuscaloosa.

A Facebook group formed by Auburn fans called "Toomer's for Tuscaloosa," had drawn nearly 38,000 fans by early Thursday afternoon.

Organizer Warren Tidwell, an Auburn resident, said he named the group after "Tide for Toomer's," which raised funds after the century-old oak trees at Auburn's Toomer's Corner were poisoned _ allegedly by Alabama fan Harvey Updyke Jr.

"This state has been represented by the lunatic fringe for the last six months and the Tide fans showed how caring they are and a lot of class, by raising money for our trees that got poisoned," Tidwell said, noting that he's not comparing deaths to a tree poisoning.

"I want to show the rest of this nation vast majority of Alabama are good people who pull together in times of crisis. While we are passionate about football, it's meaningless in times like these. We're all human beings."

Tidwell said he spent two years traveling back to forth to rural Mississippi to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

The tragedy also interrupted plans by the Auburn Tigers football team, which won this year's national championship, to travel to the White House. The trip was postponed because President Barack Obama is planning to visit the state Friday to see the damage.

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Associated Press writers contributing to this report were Michelle Williams in Trenton, Ga., Holbrook Mohr in Smithville, Miss., Bill Poovey in Chattanooga, Tenn., Beth Rucker in Greene County, Tenn., John Zenor in Montgomery, Ala., and Tim Huber in Glade Spring, Va.