Tornado hits CH after all clear, stunning residents

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CARBON HILL - With memories fresh of a tornado that devastated the town 18 years ago, Carbon Hill residents were surprised with a tornado Sunday night, even as many said an all clear had already been given. 

The National Weather Service said midday Monday it had already found EF-1 damage caused by winds of 100 mph, but it was still surveying the area. 

Residences were damaged and trees were down in a wide swath between downtown Carbon Hill and Nauvoo Road, causing some damage to the Carbon Hill school complex. Power appeared to still be out to much of Carbon Hill Monday morning, with people hearing predictions it might be several days before it is all restored. Authorities were asking sightseers to refrain from sightseeing as utility work was still going on. 

Observers were amazed no deaths occurred, especially as many people were reported in manufactured homes when tornadoes hit as part of a system that swept through the Southeast on Easter Sunday. Three people were known to have minor injuries. 

Downtown Carbon Hill was not damaged along Highway 118. The old Dobbins service station was destroyed by the storm, and power lines at the old National Guard Armory were down in that area. 

Starting north at about the First United Methodist Church, power lines and uprooted trees were down Monday morning in the general residential area, with some intersections blocked off due to downed power lines. Just north of that area, at Second Avenue and Sixth Avenue, residents saw damage in their yards.

Christie Pearson of Second Street, who lives up the street from the post office and City Hall, said shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday she and her family were watching TV.

"The weatherman had just said everything was clear and we were all good," she said. "Like five minutes later, the power was off, and we said, 'What's going on?' We stood up and by the time you stood up, you could just feel the pressure. You could hear all the trees uprooting. The wind was horrific" for maybe a couple of minutes. 

Although her home was fine, her neighbor, Ronnie O'Rear, was not so lucky. Although he was out of town, a tree fell on the south end of the home, giving him roof damage and some water damage inside.

"I've got a trampoline wedged in between my garage, my metal building and my house. It looks like a freight train trying to go through a funnel," he said with a smile. He was waiting to talk to his insurance agent, noting, "I don't want to talk to corporate." 

He and his brother, who also lives at the home (and noticed the weather was looking bad at the time), were alright, he said. Then, O'Rear's light-hearted attitude vanished. 

"People ask me why I act like I am not concerned," he said, sounding somewhat emotional. "Well, I lost my wife a year and a half ago. So this is just a piece of cake. I can fix my house, but I can't bring back my wife. That's 45 years of my life. This was her dream home." He also noted his brother lost his wife several years ago, which is why they live together now.

He said he would repair the house. 

"It's really not that bad. We're just all blessed. I haven't heard of a fatality here in town. I was actually in the 2002 (tornado), three blocks over when it come through." 

Jason Hilliard on Eighth Avenue couldn't even see his home for the trees that are down around it, noting his family was "shook up" over the event. 

"The power went out and the next thing we knew, we had a tree coming through our back window. We were all sitting on our couch eating dinner as a family." He said the sirens and alarms kept going off - although some of the alerts were for flash flooding. "Everyone would jump when your phone would ring," he said.

Hilliard had to board up some windows, but his family was safe and they checked to make sure neighbors were OK, relieved that none of them were injured. He said he didn't know how many trees were down at the home, but the ground was likely saturated to cause the trees to give way. 

A neighbor, Sonny Tune, was amazed his home, built after the earlier tornado, was fine but was a number of trees were down around him.

"How it didn't get this garage, I'll never know," he said, and then pointed out his house in general. "I just had a roof put on it last month - $20,000. Ain't a shingle gone on it, not a one," he said. 

Not far to the north, numerous residents on Nauvoo Road had damage. Off that road was the Nauvoo Mobile Home Village, which sustained major damage.

Councilwoman April Herron also lived next to the park, in her own manufactured home put up after the 2002 tornado, having never gotten around to building an intended home there. She described Sunday night as "terrifying" to her and her family, saying all she could do was hold her grown children. 

"We had no warning," Herron said of Sunday night, noting the all clear had been given for the tornado that had earlier been through Sayre. Her family had gone elsewhere for sheltering and had returned home. She only heard sirens and phone alerts as the tornado was hitting. 

"I had been watching 'American Idol' because they cleared everything. Then the TV froze up and the power went off. I then got a severe thunderstorm warning. I said it is just a thunderstorm," she recalled.

She called in her daughter Ariel in as the power was out. "The next thing I knew, the wind was swirling. Leaves were hitting the side of the house. I said, 'Y'all come on. Y'all come on.' 

"We just got in the middle of the kitchen floor and huddled together. The next thing I knew, glass was popping, things are falling. The sound was crazy." She recalled her daughter screaming a prayer, and Herron saying a prayer, "and then it was over." 

Water was coming into the house by that point, in what appeared to be the seams. She worries that her doublewide might have been pulled apart, but she could not tell Monday morning. 

"It's taken part of our roof off. It took the metal off the roof and part of the decking," she said. 

Nancy Dill, who lives in the park, agreed that the tornado came after the all clear. 

"You couldn't go anywhere if you wanted to. There was no time, for one thing," she said. As she was taking someone to an ambulance, she continued to hear a siren, making her think another one might be coming. 

Dill, who has now lived through five tornadoes, said this was her first in a manufactured home. She and Herron said while people said a tornado sounds like a freight train, they didn't hear that. "It was over in just a few seconds," Dill said. 

Herron recalled going out to search for others. The humans were mostly fine - as was her dog. 

"My dog rode it out on the golf cart," she said. "Took the shed and everything from around the golf cart, but the golf cart still sits there with the dog on it. How that happened I don't know." 

"That's what still amazes me. These three trailers and that one are still standing, and look at the rest of it," Dill said. "Our blocks are out from under ours, some of them. It lift it up. I felt it." A small building and a new door amounted to her only damage.

Herron lost all her outside buildings, except for one with Christmas decorations. As for her other two storage buildings, "we don't even know where they are at."

Nathaniel Maclaren and his fiancee were in their trailer at the park when the tornado hit, leaving him with a broken clavicle after hitting the floor. "They said there was an all clear, and then probably an hour after that, it happened."

Herron said she talked Sunday night to Mayor Mark Chambers, noting his chicken house was damaged. "There are no chickens, no more," she said, with some remaining in the front yard. "There home is fine and they are safe." 

Herron continued to sleep in their home to ward off looters, adding that a number of sightseers had been seen going up and down the road. 

Asked what she would like to tell citizens, Herron said, "Carbon Hill is strong. We've done this before. We'll do it again. And we'll come back stronger than ever. Hang together and we'll get there." 

She said she has relatives who work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and she would be checking with them. She has heard the American Red Cross will be arriving soon.

Damage continued down Nauvoo Road down to about the school area, but did not cross over the interstate. Coroner Joey Vick said no deaths had been confirmed that morning.

He said his son owns the trailer park, noting two injuries were there. "Out of the seven trailers, three of them are totalled," he said. "I can't believe there are not more injuries because some of those folks were at home. One trailer landed on top of the other. We were really blessed. It could have been a lot worse, brother." 

Aaron Gann, pastor of Nauvoo Church of God, said everyone he has checked with is alright but told him there is much damage in the city. "I'm hearing they are ok," he said. 

Meanwhile, Freedom Baptist Church appeared to have some damage in the back of the church, where Nauvoo Road intersects with Seventh Street, also known as Widows Lane Road. Yards down that road is the home of former Mayor Chris Hart, who sustained a hit on the south roof area of his home. 

Bordering his south yard is a one-lane service road, and and on the other side was a manufactured home. The home, whose resident was still in it, was lifted up across the road and into Hart's yard. Rescue crews reportedly got him out over night. He was brought from the hospital Monday morning to look at the damage, as he reportedly had a concussion. 

Hart said he and his wife were at the house, and the all-clear had been given. "I was about to get a shower, had the water going, and the lights go out," Hart said. Hearing noise, he told his wife it was a tornado and to get in the closet.

"We got into the closet and it was on. It lasted maybe five to seven seconds, and it was gone. But you could feel the pressure in the house, like your ears was about to pop, and it just released, and I guess that is when the roof went," he said, noting he and his wife were alright. 

"We were more worried about my daughter," he said. "She was down in Reform at her boyfriend's house. The storm had gone through there earlier." She had gone to a storm shelter.