Jacob Taylor hadn’t eaten or slept since the tornado demolished everything but his phone, his wallet and the clothes he was wearing.
“I’m still in shock, running on adrenaline,” he said Thursday. “I didn’t expect it to do the amount of damage it did.”
When the tornado hit, Taylor, 23, and roommate Andy Page were in a second-floor apartment in Village Green Apartments, one of the hardest-hit areas in Trenton. The two squeezed into the closet holding the water heater as the storm blew through.
“All you could hear was the roar — you couldn’t even hear the walls being blown away,” he said. “It was over in 5 seconds. All that was left was the carpet on the floor.”
All that remained of the 25 brick units were piles of splintered board, scattered brick, bits of insulation plastered everywhere and a few walls — like an explosion had torn them to smithereens.
The tornado’s 150-mph winds tossed cars into heaps and blew out their windows like a dandelion.
Everything Taylor and Page had was gone, even their cats. On Thursday, the two, their family and friends searched frantically for the cats and several litters of kittens amidst the rubble.
After hours of searching, Page heard a meow that led him to Ellie, his pet of three years. She had been hiding near the mangled bathtub.
Tears ran down his face as Page cuddled her carefully.
“We are lucky — we both have jobs and no one was hurt,” said Taylor, who has joined the Marines and is waiting to be called for duty. “But you don’t know where to start picking up the pieces.”
Donny Walston was the kind of guy who made everyone laugh with his raucous sense of humor.
Walston died Wednesday evening when a tornado tore his mobile home off its foundation and sent it crashing across the yard, according to family members. His girlfriend was taken to Erlanger hospital with injuries.
“We are all in shock,” said Jolene Harrison, Walston’s niece, crying as she moved bits of wood and debris, searching through endless amounts of rubble.
“We are trying to find some of his personal stuff,” niece Kristy Walston added. “Nothing like this has happened before.”
“We are all gonna die!”
Ten-year-old Courtney Williams and her younger siblings were screaming that as their mother herded them into the bathroom.
“Our mom was telling us not to panic,” Courtney said. “But then we heard the storm hit, and that’s when she told us, ‘We can panic now.’”
Courtney, holding a Mountain Dew in one hand Thursday, gave a play-by-play account of how her family of five survived the tornado as her parents and friends carried out any items they could find and stored then in a moving van.
“I’m surprised we survived, seriously,” Courtney said. “The roof just blew off.”
When 20-year-old Dustin Tinker saw the hallway wall warp from the pressure of the wind, he knew this was the real deal.
“I dove into the bathroom,” Tinker said. “It seemed like forever.”
Tinker and his mother, Paula Tinker, were at home in their apartment in the Village Green complex when the tornado hit.
About 34 people lived in the 25 units in the apartment complex. By Thursday afternoon, all had been accounted for, most with only minor injuries. A few had broken bones.
On Thursday morning, Paula Tinker stacked up encyclopedias and other books, balancing them on a wall that lay on the ground next to what had been her home.
“I’m devastated — I have nowhere to go,” she said, fighting back tears.
There was too much daylight in the house when Cecelia Dawson cracked open the closet door in the middle of the storm.
“I knew something was wrong then,” Dawson said. “I just shut the door again and closed my eyes.”
When Dawson ventured back outside with her mother and her two children a few minutes later, she could see her neighbor’s demolished house.
“There were no walls left,” she said.
Dawson said she watched the storm move down the side of Sand Mountain from her vantage point at the doorway. When she saw the funnel, she knew she had moments to make it to the closet.
Just a few houses away, a mobile home was tossed into the street, killing the man inside.
Dawson and her mother, Becky Edwards, tried to salvage a few belongings Thursday morning. Edwards lived in the small frame house for 34 of her 67 years. She clutched a single muddy flip-flop as she looked at the tattered evergreen bushes surrounding what had been her front porch.
“I’m just devastated,” she said, as her voice choked and then broke. “But I’m thankful we are all alive. The good Lord was with me; if it hadn’t been for him, we wouldn’t be here.”
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...