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"I just heard this terrific noise," she said. "The windows were blowing out as I came down the stairs."
The building collapsed, but they were able to get out through a basement door. They escaped with only bumps and bruises.
Janet Elliott was sitting on her bed in Chattanooga, Tenn., when a severe weather warning scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Fierce winds were blowing, and her cats seemed clingy. Her dogs had gotten low to the floor.
She ran to the basement and tried to pull the door shut, but she couldn’t. She heard a ripping sound as the ceiling peeled off and wind wrenched the doorknob from her hand.
"I looked up and I could see the sky," she said. "I realized if I had stayed on the bed two seconds longer, I would have been sucked out or crushed."
In Washington County, Ind., residents saw a massive tornado come over a hill and plow through a grove of trees. When the winds had passed, it looked as if a line of bulldozers had rolled through.
Gene Lewellyn, his son and his son’s 7-year-old daughter saw the tornado come over the hill, rushed to the basement of his one-story brick home and covered themselves with a carpet.
"It just shook once, and it (the house) was gone," said Lewellyn, 62, a retired press operator.
Friday’s tornado outbreak had been forecast for days; meteorologists at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center had said the day would be one of a handful this year that warranted its highest risk level. The weather service issued 297 tornado warnings and 388 severe thunderstorm warnings from Friday through early Saturday.
In April, when tornadoes killed more than 240 people in Alabama, it issued 688 tornado warnings and 757 severe thunderstorm warnings from Texas to New York, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the storm prediction center.
It was a distinction without a difference for Lewellyn, who spent Saturday picking through the debris in 38-degree cold. His family was safe, but their home was reduced to a pile of bricks and sheet metal wrapped around splintered trees. Pieces of insulation coated the ground, and across the street a large trailer picked up by the storm had landed on top of a boat.
"Right now, we are not sure what we are going to do," he said. "We all get out what we can get out."
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