As hurricanes hit, the survivors hid in docks and shipping containers


As hurricanes hit, the survivors hid in docks and shipping containers

An Alabama engine mechanic takes refuge in a shipping container as a tornado from a violent storm destroys his shop and kills two neighbors along its devastating path through Alabama and Georgia.

Residents of David Holon and other storm survivors Thursday began to emerge as residents combed through debris created by tornadoes and high winds that killed at least nine people.

In rural Ouaga County, Alabama, where at least seven people died, Holon and his workers saw a massive tornado heading toward them. They needed to get to a shelter - right away.

Holon said they crashed into a metal shipping container near the back of his garage because the container was anchored to the ground with concrete. Once inside, Holon began frantically calling his neighbor on the phone. But when they heard the garage was being torn down by a storm, the call kept sending voicemail.

He said the storm had passed and they went out to find his neighbor's body in the street. A family member said that another neighbor on the road was also killed.

“I think we did a lot better than most of us,” Holon, 52, said in an interview Saturday as he walked through the remains of his garage, walking through a field strewn with wrecked cars, smashed glass, felled tree branches, chipped wood and other debris.

Leah Johnson, a 54-year-old cafeteria worker who also lives in Ouaga County, stood among the ramshackle remnants of her home. She pointed to a long pile of rubble, which she identified as her bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen.

The swing she had in her backyard was now across the street, distorted between some trees. Her outdoor trampoline is wrapped around another group of trees in a neighbor's front yard.

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

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

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

Otoga County officials said the tornado's sustained winds were at least 136 mph (218 km/h) and caused damage consistent with an EF3, two paces behind the strongest category of tornado. County authorities said at least 12 people were hospitalized and 40 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, including mobile homes that were launched into the air.

Residents described chaotic scenes as the storm surged toward them. People rushed to shelters, bathtubs and umbrellas as the wind fell. In one case, a search crew found five people, trapped but unharmed, inside a storm shelter after a wall from a nearby home fell on them.

Downtown Selma was badly damaged before the worst weather across Georgia traveled south of Atlanta. There were no reports of deaths in Salma.

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

Kemp said a State Department of Transportation worker was killed while responding to storm damage. Authorities say a five-year-old boy in a car was killed by a falling tree in Buttes County, Georgia. At least 12 people were treated at a hospital in Spalding County, south of Atlanta, as the weather service confirmed at least two tornadoes.

Johnson, the cafeteria worker in Ouaga County, said she was at work when she learned the storm would pass directly over her home. She quickly warned her daughter, who was with her two-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, her voice cracking. "And she said, 'I'm in the sink. If the house gets messed up, I'll be in the sink area.'"

The call got cut off. Johnson kept calling. When she finally got back in touch with her daughter, Johnson said she told her, "Home is gone, home is gone."

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

"I brought her home and tried not to leave her after that," Johnson recalled. “I've lost a lot of things financially and I don't have insurance but I don't care, because my baby is fine.

"That's really all I care about."

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