A sign of gratefulness is displayed outside a home on Main Street in Louisville on Tuesday morning after an EF-4 tornado tore through Winston County on Monday night. Photo by: Mary Alice Weeks/Dispatch Staff
April 30, 2014 10:51:47 AM
LOUISVILLE -- A bright, cloudless sky Tuesday morning provided a stark contrast to the debris-littered streets of Louisville.
The sounds of chainsaws and the smell of fresh-cut pine trees dominated the senses. Neighbors spoke to each other softly as emergency medical workers searched for the missing.
Winston County Coroner Scott Gregory confirmed that nine people were killed after an EF-4 tornado ripped from one end of the county to another Monday. The tornado wreaked havoc on everything from churches to daycare centers. Volunteers said the names of the deceased and of the missing in prayer as rescue efforts continued Tuesday morning.
Tuesday evening Gregory said rescue efforts focused on finding 7-year-old Tyler Tucker. The bodies of the boy's mother, Terri Tucker, and stepfather, Sean Fowler, were discovered in the area near the family's destroyed home off of Highway 379.
Before their bodies were discovered, Fowler's best friend, Jaime Ainsworth, was standing along the roadside watching. Ainsworth lives a half-mile from the Fowler residence. He said he spoke with his friend less than five minutes before the tornado hit. Fowler told Ainsworth he was standing on his porch, looking at a cemetery across the street.
"He said, 'I don't see anything but I'm gonna keep eyes on it,'" Ainsworth said. "And that's the last I heard of him."
Fowler's wood-frame home is gone. Only a paved concrete driveway remains. Rescue workers used the driveway as a resting place for family photographs they found.
The couples' vehicles laid against a tree less than 500 feet from the house. By 8 a.m. Tuesday, Ainsworth had lost hope that his friend was alive. Fowler's body was found hours later.
"We came over here last night looking for him and there's nothing here anymore," Ainsworth said. "I think all we found last night was a dead dog of theirs and then a live dog of theirs. Virtually nothing else."
While rescue workers searched for the missing family, neighbors a street over were thanking God for their safety.
Steven and Clara Hampton have lived on Jefferson Street for 30 years. Clara Hampton's elderly mother lives across the street. Steven Hampton is a minister. He said he feels God's grace is what kept his family safe.
"I know there wasn't nobody but God who kept us," he said. "Because just me, myself personally, the human side of me, at one point I felt like we was gone. I really did. I just thank God that He looked beyond our faults and His grace and mercy kept us."
During the storm, the Hamptons hid under a mattress. Their home is demolished.
Next door, Ariel Thomas was walking around in her front yard in her pajamas Tuesday. Her house is a pile of twisted beams.
Thomas was at the home with her parents and her 3-year-old child. The family gathered in a closet once they heard "the whistle sound," Thomas said.
"All four of us smushed in that closet and held a mattress over us," she said. "Didn't no debris hit us or nothing. Glass is broken and we heard things throwing around but I'm so happy we've got our life. Those are material things. I'm so happy that it didn't suck us up."
Across from Jefferson Street is Memorial Park Cemetery. Tombstones laid toppled over and pine trees were on their sides.
What remains of Eiland Avenue is at the foot of the hill.
Linda Love and her husband, Shirley Lee, were trapped after their home collapsed around them. Lee is wheelchair-bound. Before the tornado hit, Love was outside tending to her chickens. She said she rushed inside when she saw the tornado approaching.
"I pushed (Lee) into the hallway, just before I could get from my door to the hallway and that was it," Love said. "It hit my house, throwed my husband out his wheelchair and then throwed me into him and then he was on top of me. Next thing I remember they were pulling me out."
Love said Lee is in the hospital being treated for his injuries. The couple's son, who is also named Shirley Lee, was standing several feet from what remained of his parents' house. He and several friends were loading chickens into a truck. They stopped to take a break and began complaining about what they felt was lack of help from fellow community members and emergency services.
"People was coming over here to be nosey instead of helping these people out," he said. "You see people with bones sticking out, chunks of meat missing on them, wood sticking through them and they ain't doing nothing to help? Man, we've been helping these people all night."
The group said they had each dug through rubble to find people. Taking a deep drag from his cigarette, the younger Lee estimated he and his friends pulled half a dozen people from a demolished apartment complex.
The Revival, formerly known as Eiland Plaza, housed approximately 20 adults and numerous children, the men said. Moments earlier, another body had been discovered among the building's rubble.
Those who had been displaced were being directed to First Baptist Church and First Methodist Church.
In addition to the demolition in the south side of Louisville, the Winston Medical Center on the north side of town sustained substantial damage. A daycare there was demolished. The owner, Ruth Bennett, is among the dead.
Reached this morning, Gregory said the search for Tyler Tucker continues.
Gregory said once the missing have been found, Louisville will heal and rebuild.
"We're going to be all right," he said. "We'll rise up from this and we're going to be good."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
1. Former coach pleads guilty to sex crime with student COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Weyerhaeuser to sell Columbus mills COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Bite mark evidence in local death row case under scrutiny, again COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Arrest report 5-4-16 STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY