SEMINOLE — Larry Jernigen, 62, spent much of Tuesday retelling his near-death experience of riding out a tornado inside his pickup. Jernigen is already a celebrity of sorts in Seminole for having lived to tell about two other brushes with death. He survived an airplane crash in 1985 and a car accident with a tractor-trailer rig in 1995. Jernigen was about to leave his cabinet shop on State Highway 99 when a tornado hit Monday. He took cover on the floorboard of his 1999 Chevy pickup while debris battered its metal body and shattered the windows. "It sounded like a demolition derby,” he said. "And then the truck started to move, and I thought I was going airborne.” There were many stories of survival and property loss along the one-mile stretch of SH 99 where the tornado delivered the brunt of its force. City Manager Steve Saxon said the damage path was about 11/2 miles wide and 17 miles long, leaving 30 families homeless and damaging as many as 300 roofs. Power lines Tuesday hung off broken wood poles like limp spaghetti. Twisted metal lay on greenbelts. Glass and debris littered the highway. The tornado left Yolanda Suarez’s mobile home in pieces. Suarez tried Tuesday to salvage a few belongings. Little was left. She had been alone in the mobile home when the tornado carried three-fourths of it to a neighboring business. Suarez escaped by taking cover in a bedroom that was anchored by a fallen tree. She climbed out a window and was rescued by a volunteer firefighter. "I felt like I was going die,” Suarez said. At the Seminole airport, the tornado ripped off hangar doors and tossed planes several feet. The airport runway appears to be in good shape, but there is at least $2 million in damage to hangars and the terminal, the Seminole city manager said. The tornado destroyed a classroom at nearby Varnum Schools. It also caused roof damage in several school buildings, dislodged a concrete baseball dugout and left acres of trees uprooted. Superintendent John Sheridan said classes for the 268 students will likely be canceled until the end of the week, and possibly next week. All field trips and graduation ceremonies have been put on hold. Prekindergarten teacher Leigh Ann Azlin on Tuesday hauled a few plastic containers of teaching materials, left untouched by Monday’s storm, out of her classroom. "I was warned before I got here that it was bad,” Azlin said. "I thought I was prepared, but the sight of it brought me to my knees.”
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