Survivors tell their stories: 'We are safe here'

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 29, 2014 at 11:07 am •  Published: April 29, 2014
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A powerful storm system was menacing a large swath of the South early Tuesday, killing more than two dozen people from Arkansas to Alabama over more than two days of destruction. Here are the some stories from people in Mississippi and Alabama that made it through the frightening chaos.

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Pam Montgomery walked with her gray Scottish terrier Ava on Tuesday morning in the parking lot of St. Luke's United Methodist church in the Joyner neighborhood. She was working at the city newspaper when the tornado hit. She was moved into a storm shelter and was safe, but her husband, who has health problems, was home with the dog.

Montgomery and her colleagues emerged from the shelter after the storm and checked Facebook, which had postings saying the Joyner neighborhood was especially hard hit.

"Everybody was stunned," she said.

Minutes passed and she could not reach her husband. Those minutes turned into an hour, then longer.

"He does not have a cellphone and all the power lines were down," said Montgomery, 54, of her husband.

Finally, she was able to get a neighbor to walk over to her house to check if he was OK. He was.

"I couldn't come home and I had no way of contacting him. It was just nerve wracking and scary yesterday."

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After the tornado pounced on Tupelo, Miss., one gas station looked as if it had been stepped on by a giant. Francis Gonzalez owns a convenience store and Mexican restaurant attached to that station. Gonzalez, her three children and two employees ducked for cover in the store's cooler shortly after a cellphone blared a tornado warning.

In the nick of time. Within seconds, the wind picked up and glass shattered. The roof over the gas pumps was reduced to aluminum shards. A nearby SUV had its windows blown out. The storefront window had a large hole in it. Debris lay everywhere.

"It took us by surprise," Gonzalez said in Spanish. Stunned by the destruction all around, she added: "My Lord, how can all this happen in just one second?"

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At the Highlands, a sprawling mobile home park that's about five miles from Jackson-Evers International Airport people spent Tuesday picking through the rubble of more than a dozen homes that were obliterated or heavily damaged.

Emergency officials said no one was killed in the Highlands, but several were injured.

Dagmar Almenares, a 33-year-old native of Cuba, said he considers himself lucky. He and his 62-year-old mother were in their rented mobile home when a tornado picked it up and blew it apart.

"It's hard to explain," Almenares said Tuesday. "I was rolling around inside the trailer, then it landed."

The black metal beams that were the base of his home landed across the street, about 50 yards away. The rest of the home landed on top of a neighbor's mobile home, making a twisted heap of metal, lumber, furniture, appliances and yellow insulation. Several men helped him pick through the debris under blue skies Tuesday.

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The University of Alabama confirms that a 21-year-old member of its swim team, John Servati of Tupelo, Miss., was killed Monday night when storms swept through the city.

Tuscaloosa city spokeswoman Deidre Stalnaker says Servati was taking shelter in the basement of a home when a retaining wall collapsed. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital. She says the accident happened at a home on 22nd Avenue about 10:30 p.m. when the city was under a tornado warning.