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Survivor remembers: 'I just kept screaming for help'

By Ken Raymond Published: May 1, 2009
He’d spent the afternoon working outside, tending to the lawn and planting flowers. When Dixie got home from work, they made dinner and watched the weather reports on TV.

When the tornado turned toward their neighborhood, they gathered up some pillows and blankets and took refuge in the closet. They didn’t expect anything to happen, but sometime after 7 p.m., the jet engine roar of the tornado swept toward them.

They lay on the floor. John, a weightlifter, wrapped his thick arms around Dixie.

“And then the house exploded around us, just disintegrated,” John said. “I was thrown a few feet and just bounced on the ground, and she was gone. I just couldn’t hold onto her.”

Two or three minutes later, John freed himself and stood up. The tornado’s winds — whipping at more than 300 mph — had torn the ceramic tile off the foundation. The neighborhood was gone.

“There was nothing left,” he said. “Must have been 50 houses.”

John wasn’t wearing shoes. He padded through the wreckage, unaware that he had a broken left ankle and a damaged right knee, searching for Dixie. He found her in a neighbor’s yard.

Terrible injuries

Dixie’s face was masked in blood.

When she was pulled from her husband’s grasp, she collided with something in the air or was hurled forcefully to the ground. The left side of her face was smashed.

Her nose was broken in four places. She’d broken her neck, left cheek and jaw. The bones around her left eye were fractured. So was her skull.

But she was alive.

John rode off with a trooper to find an ambulance. Baxter knelt beside Dixie.

In the end, Dixie required so many operations that she and her husband lost count. Somewhere in the double digits. One dreadful procedure involved injecting her eye with a numbing agent and stitching her eyelids shut.

“I don’t remember the weeks after the tornado,” Dixie said. “They had me on morphine, so I don’t remember anything until the last days in the hospital.”

John recalls the whole thing — the helplessness, the terror.

“There are times, when a storm’s coming at night, Dixie and the kids will go to bed, and I’ll just stay up keeping an eye on the situation until the storms roll through,” he said. “At the time, we didn’t have kids, but now that we do, we worry about that more than anything else.”

Fearful aftermath

Faulkinberry remembers, too — far more than she’d like.

“It really bothers me when it gets real windy,” she said. “I still go see my psychiatrist. I have a lot of back pains and aches, and they diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression.

“I cry a lot and get real scared.”

She doesn’t go outside much anymore.

“Sometimes even on Saturdays, when the siren goes off at 12 noon, it bothers me,” she said. “A lot.”


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