published Friday, April 29th, 2011

Dekalb and Jackson Counties: 44 killed


As a funnel cloud dropped from the sky and began tearing through the Southern Oaks subdivision in this small town, Pat Johnson rushed to a closet in her house.

Her daughter, Samantha Phillips, had just run into the house after leaving work earl and, with Phillips’ 9-month-old daughter Kloi pressed between them, the three huddled in the small closet as the tornado tore through their back yard.

Johnson’s husband, Benny, was in another part of the house.

“We had our arms around each other, and we were holding that baby as tight as we could between us,” Johnson said. “I just started praying as loud as I could, ‘Jesus, don’t let this baby get sucked out of our arms!’”

At least 20 houses in Southern Oaks sustained damage from the tornado. Eight of those, clustered in an area covering about a half-mile radius, were shredded to the foundations. A 13-year-old boy who lived in the subdivision died in the storm.

“We literally felt the walls shake. The whole house moved,” Johnson said. “It was a noise that I can’t really explain, but mostly you just felt pressure in your ears that hurt so bad you felt like your head would explode.

“You didn’t hear glass breaking or trees falling or anything. It was just a roar. And then it got eerily quiet, and you could hear people screaming outside.”

The tornado touched down in the Johnsons’ yard at 5:17 p.m. CDT. Four minutes later, Phillips began texting her husband at work to see if he was safe.

Standing on the hillside where her home had been reduced to three walls and a yard of twisted metal and downed trees, Phillips looked over a field littered by debris, including an 18-wheel tractor-trailer that had been picked up and dropped into a ditch about 300 yards from where it was parked.

“There were houses all through there until last night,” Phillips said. “Now there’s nothing left. Two houses across the street from us are nothing but rubble, and there’s not much left for us to save from our house, either.

“It’s sad, but we can replace our stuff. I’m just glad we’re all still together.”

— By Staff Writer Stephen Hargis


Lynn Woods admitted to being ill-prepared for the tornado that destroyed her home Wednesday.

The 43-year-old court reporter for Hamilton County Judge Don Poole says she stayed home from work on Wednesday because of threatening weather. Her sons Andrew, 16, Alex, 13, and Alex’s friend, Johnathan Tipton, 13, also stayed home.

When hail and wind started, the family ran for the hall, she said.

Then Andrew looked out the window and yelled, “Mom, I see it. It’s on the road.”

“I saw the roof being ripped off as I pinned the two younger boys on the floor,” says Woods. “Andrew was halfway down on the floor when the tornado picked him up and slammed him down. When I opened my eyes, everything around me was gone.”

Andrew suffered a concussion but no one else was hurt, she said.

Her 2,000-square-foot brick home is leveled, as are the other five houses in the neighborhood.

On Thursday, someone finally found her car — in a pond.

“I lost everything I own and I don’t really care,” she said. “We’re very lucky. By the grace of God, we’re still here.

“The only thing my sons have asked about is whether or not insurance would replace their PlayStation,” Woods said. “I told the boys I would build a storm shelter for us to live in and that I’d get a PlayStation. It’s all we need.”

— By Staff Writer Karen Nazor Hill

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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