ENTERPRISE, Ala. — Trent Cox rushed his wife, daughter and two grandchildren to his father’s home, just a few minutes before his home was destroyed by an apparent tornado Wednesday afternoon.
It was one of the dozens of homes damaged after a wave of at least 24 reported tornadoes battered portions of Alabama and Mississippi Wednesday and moved into Georgia and Florida Thursday. The severe weather also left one person dead in Mississippi.
Cox’s brick home was blown from the slab and the remnants were scattered for several hundred yards.
“You work 24 years and everything you have is gone in the blink of an eye,” he said, working to salvage what he could from the debris Thursday morning. “We have stuff scattered half a mile. There’s people that picked up some of our pictures two miles away.”
The group of about a dozen homes in Autauga County, received major damage. Two homes were destroyed. Others had roofs peeled off.
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Wisps of pink insulation blew about as Cox looked over what used to be his home. His shop was also destroyed. Steel beams of the shop’s framing were twisted by the force of the wind. Cox looked back at the bare concrete slab that was his home just a day before.
“If we would have stayed, none of us would have made it,” he said. “No way. We’re thankful we all made it.” The family’s blue tick hound puppy, however, passed away due to injuries.
A few hundred yards away, Sherrell Eaton and Jimmy Baker rushed to a 2-feet-by-2-feet closet in the middle of their brick home. The storm collapsed the exterior walls, leaving only the closet and a corner bedroom standing.
“We were watching the weather and had plenty of warning,” she said. “We walked out on the porch and could hear it coming. We were in the closet about two minutes before it hit. We could hear all the stuff breaking away from the house. The only thing you could do was talk to God.”
In the front yard was a water heater. They don’t know where it came from. Someone had kicked a hole in the sheetrock so they could get into the bedroom to begin handing out clothes, shoes and whatever else could be found.
“We’ve got a bunch of good friends helping,” she said. “We made it and nobody that I know of up here got hurt. That’s the important thing.”
Just a few miles away in Billingsley, Alabama, friends and family gathered at the home of Evelyn and George Cook. Several large pine trees were blown over in their yard, three were left leaning on the roof of their home.
“They’ve been here 52 years, and the trees were here when they got here,” said their daughter Carol Carter.
Evelyn Cook was in the closet under the stairs when the apparent tornado hit. She’s on oxygen being a COVID survivor. George Cook, a carpenter, was out on the porch.
“It was coming just a few seconds; that’s all it took,” he said. “I turned to get back into the house and the pressure had already changed. I had the push the door with my shoulder, putting all me weight to it to get it open.”
Help arrived just after the storm passed Wednesday bringing chainsaws and tractors.
“I don’t know what people without a church family do in time like this,” Carter said. “We have had so much help. We can get the house fixed. Mamma and Daddy are OK. That’s the important thing.”
Autauga and Chilton counties underwent several tornado warnings Wednesday, beginning at about 12:30 p.m. and stretching to about 10:30 p.m. Survey teams from the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, toured damaged areas in the county Thursday to determine if tornadoes had touched down.
“We were very fortunate that we had no injuries or fatalities given the conditions Wednesday and the number of tornado warnings for Autauga County,” said Ernie Baggett, director of the county’s emergency management agency.
“We were very lucky. It could have been much, much worse.”
Contributing: Doyle Rice and Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY
Follow Marty Roney on Twitter: @MartyRoney1.