This story was updated Tuesday, April 14, 2020, at 8:45 p.m. with more information.
Kelly Patterson was standing in her kitchen when one of her neighbors told her a tornado was coming.
Patterson opened the front door to her second-story apartment and saw the trees out front in the parking lot bend and flatten.
Her purse was on the kitchen counter. Her plan was to grab her purse, her phone and yell for her puppy Elly Mae — a chihuahua-Jack Russell terrier mix — and lock themselves in the bathroom until the storm passed.
Patterson grabbed her purse, but that was all she could do before the roof fell on her.
"I barely had time to pick it up," she said. "It was really scary. It was bad."
At least one tornado tore through Murray County, Georgia, late Sunday night, killing a reported seven people and leveling dozens of homes. Tuesday evening, the Murray County coroner confirmed the names of the seven dead — Rebecca Beck, 59; Wilber Brookshire, 79; Myrtle Brookshire, 75; Wilber Brookshire Jr., 48; Richard Irwin, 50; Laquita Thomas, 63; and Deanna Zambrano, 20.
This was the sixth time Patterson experienced a tornado. She's had brushes with tornadoes in Illinois, Indiana, Alabama and other parts of Georgia that date back to when she was born 58 years ago.
"In Albany, Georgia, where I was born, the week my mother brought me home we had a bad tornado," Patterson said. 'Tore up our house. It's, like, embedded in me."
The deadly overnight storms also injured at least 23 people, and two others were still unaccounted for late Monday, as local crews begin the slow process of cleaning up. The seven people killed all lived north of Chatsworth in neighborhoods near Deer Park Drive and Ridgeview Circle. A large pasture separates the two areas.
First responders spent most of Monday clearing trees, power lines and other debris from the neighborhood. Most roads were closed to the public in certain areas, and homes were accessible only by off-terrain vehicles.
On Tuesday, volunteers gathered at Bagley Middle School to offer their services. Hundreds of people split up into teams to deliver food, cut lumber with chainsaws and move debris with trucks and trailers.
Anthony Sluder and Butch Patterson were two of those volunteers.
"It's the Murray County way," Sluder said. "We just want to help out in any way we can."
Patterson said his cousin was about 300 feet from the tornado's path and was lucky to not lose anything.
"You'll see a spot where two trailers used to be and they're completely gone. Then right next to it a lawnmower is sitting there like it wasn't touched," Patterson said. "It's so sad. Everybody is just trying to help."
The Rev. Will Linginfelter is the pastor at Zion Hill Baptist Church in Murray County. He said church workers handed out meals to about 500 families Monday, and he using the church as a point of contact for volunteers and people in need.
"If the virus don't kill you, a tornado will. Give me a break, God." - Murray County resident Kelly Patterson
Linginfelter said the plan is to give out hot meals for another day while collecting nonperishable food items and bottled water and coming up with long-term solutions with the help of other community services.
About 10,000 people were still without power as of Tuesday in the county.
Patricia Thompson, business manager with the Salvation Army in Murray County, said the nonprofit has been putting up families who lost their homes at the Cohutta Springs resort. So far about seven families have been relocated through the organization.
Meanwhile, more than 50 people have been taken to a Murray County motel by the American Red Cross. Northwest Georgia Disaster Program manager Carla Maton said the Red Cross is addressing immediate health needs while also helping families set up long-term care solutions.
Kelly Patterson is one the residents at the local motel. It took her a long time to find the apartment she was living in. On a fixed income, there's only so much she can afford.
"I can't think straight," Patterson said Tuesday after collecting the last of her things from her apartment. "I don't really have any place to go, and right now I don't have the funds. I'm hoping our landlord gives us our deposit back."
She still hasn't found her phone. She's worried about staying at the motel with so many people during the coronavirus outbreak.
"If the virus don't kill you, a tornado will," she said. "Give me a break, God."
There are things to be hopeful about. Patterson was convinced she lost her dog. She was terrified she'd find Elly Mae crushed under the debris. A whole day after the tornado hit, Patterson found Elly Mae in the middle of her bed, safe and sound under parts of the roof.
"That was a sign," she said. "Life goes on."
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.
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