Editor’s note: Some stories from the April 27, 2011, tornadoes fall under the category of “strange but true.” Others “strange and maybe true.” Here’s a collection of such stories. Not all could be confirmed independently, but all are bound to inspire wonder, or maybe a smile.
RINGGOLD'S FLYING DONKEYS
A woman who was hauling a trailer loaded with donkeys down to Florida pulled off Interstate 75’s exit 348 into Ringgold, Ga., just as the tornado swept through. The winds slammed the vehicle into a Wendy’s and the trailer doors flew off.
“Witnesses said they saw the back of the trailer fly off, then saw the donkeys fly out after it,” said Rhonda Bass, director of 911 communications for Catoosa County.
Two days later, a man who owns property across from Wendy’s called the 911 center to report he had found two strange donkeys grazing on the hill.
“I think the donkeys were reunited with their owner — we’re not quite sure what became of them,” said Bass. “I just feel bad for the poor soul who had to drag those donkeys back into a trailer again.”
— Kate Harrison
BABY PULLED FROM FATHER'S ARMS
A baby sucked from a father’s arms and blown into a tree, unscathed and still wrapped in a blanket — the story was added to the list of survivals and miracles the day of the storm in Alabama.
But a year later, no one is sure what the family’s name is or where the incident happened.
Chandra Peek, wife of the pastor of Higdon Baptist Church, heard the detailed story in the first days after the storms. She heard that a family in the Ider area tried to escape the fast-approaching storm by running to a nearby creek.
The father, who was carrying the baby, was the last one to reach the creek and the force of the tornado hit just as he jumped into the water, tearing the baby from his arms.
The family was pinned in the water by trees, but when rescue workers arrived, they found the blanket-wrapped baby in one of the downed trees. It was unhurt, Peek was told.
Ider Rescue Squad members say they heard the baby story, too. But a year later, they don’t know who the family was or whether it really happened.
Down the road, closer to Rainsville, Heather Rosson said the baby story is just one of dozens passed from mouth to mouth in those first chaotic weeks. Some are true, some aren’t.
“Everybody was telling stories. You didn’t know what to believe,” Rosson said.
— Mariann Martin
DINER DAMAGE LEFT ONE ITEM UNSCATHED
Chow Time doesn’t exist anymore.
The restaurant was damaged beyond repair by the tornado that tore through Ringgold, Ga. It was later bulldozed to the ground.
But for a few days after the April 27 storm, passers-by and gawkers were treated to a strange scene inside the ravaged ruin.
Chow Time was more or less at the center of destruction in the damage path. By the time anyone could make it through the rubble a day later, it became apparent that there was no saving the building. The ceiling was caved in, the walls were gone, almost as if a Volvo-sized cannonball had been fired through the middle of the historic diner.
Pots, pans and pieces of the kitchen lay scattered. The rubble piled up to waist height.
Yet in the center of the room, directly in the path of destruction, stood an unscathed cake dish.
The fragile glass container, though covered with dust, hadn’t sustained so much as a crack. The light streaming in from the destroyed ceiling showed that the cake dish still held a pristine cake from the day before, unmolested by the violence.
Owner Maria Green-Rogers said she couldn’t explain it.
“I’m just as confused as you are,” she said.
— Ellis Smith
A SIGN OF HOPE IN BLEDSOE COUNTY
The day after storms blew through Pitts Gap and the New Harmony community atop Brayton Mountain, volunteers and emergency crews could be heard talking about which homes had been checked for tornado victims, who needed transportation and whether anyone had spoken to a certain person since the sun rose on the devastation.
But another account kept resurfacing, a tale that seemed to lighten hearts and give hope.
The New Harmony Church of Christ, a tiny white church at the northern end of the tornado’s trail in Bledsoe County, Tenn., stood battered and almost windowless on April 28.
Church member Jamey Roberson, who was the Regional Volunteer Fire Department incident commander, said the winds hit from behind, blasting through two classrooms and the baptistery.
“It blew through there and gutted it,” Roberson said. But in the destroyed baptistery, pastor Gary Everett’s Bible, his hymn book with his notes and with a small classroom bell still lay.
“There wasn’t a page in the Bible torn, the hymn book was still lying there and the little bell. But everything else was gone.”
— Ben Benton
THE COW CAME HOME
The Hollanders have raised cattle and baled hay for 23 years off Cherokee Valley Road. But when the twister ripped through Ringgold, Ga., the couple’s barns, fences and house were sucked up.
Four of Morris Hollander’s cattle were also carried away, said Morris’ wife, Jeaneane.
One was a calf, and his mother bawled for him for days.
The rest of the cattle ran free, blocking the road and causing more stress for Hollander, who no longer had any way to pen the cows in. He finally shuffled his herd off to be sold and turned his attention to cleaning up his property.
There was no trace of the four missing cows.
Ten days later, the farmer looked up from his yard and saw his 4-year-old Black Angus amble from the woods near the edge of his property. She was thin, her hide was torn, her hair tussled and patches missing, but she was alive.
“She found her way back,” Jeaneane Hollander said.
— Joy Lukachick