Special Report: Through the Eyes of Survivors - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Through the Eyes of Survivors

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By Dawn Hobby - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - There will be about 1200 tornadoes in the United States this year. Georgia is in the top 14 tornado states, we can expect roughly 20. Dozens of people will likely be injured. Some will die.

So how can you survive a tornado?

Valentine's Day 2000, one of the deadliest tornadoes in recent history hit the small town of Camilla.

"Its devastating. It's a loss." In the pre-dawn hours, the powerful F3 twister cut a deadly, five mile path.

"Me and my wife got into the tub and started praying," said one victim. As victims slept, lives were shattered.

"Unbelievable. Never seen anything like it. Never thought it could happen to my family"

Entire neighborhoods were wiped out; 13 people were killed. Those who were spared had harrowing stories of survival. 

"Before it hit, I heard roaring and got in the closet," said Willie Nelson.

In the seconds before the tornado hit, many of the survivors remembered what they'd always been told.

"I ran for the bathroom. By the time we got in there, it took off the roof," said Billy Davis.

Dougherty Co. Emergency Management Deputy Director Jim Vaught watched our stories of tornado victims taking cover in bathtubs, closets and hallways.

He says the split-second decisions they made likely meant the difference in life and death. "You can see there he had a small, contained area, without windows," said Vaught.

Seven years later, a tornado hit Americus.

"Glass windows began to crack, break and blow into the house," said Jerome Smith.  Smith's mother and brother headed for a hallway and survived.

Travis Griffin crouched in a corner. His two friends, just feet away, were killed. "He escaped by being in the corner."

"We could feel the house moving," said Tammie Dent.

That same night, in Baconton, Tammie Dent and her family knew what to do. "We all got in a closet and put pillows over us," said Dent.

"Very good, get into an interior room, preferably without windows," says Vaught.

Camilla tornado victim Stan Huey likely survived because he hid in a closet. "The only place in this house where there is a roof is in the closet," said Huey.

Vaught says, "He had a plan. He knew where he was going to go and executed that plan, and probably saved his life looking at the destruction of the home."

"We have a plan," says Harris Malcolm.

After surviving both the Camilla and the Americus tornadoes, Harris Malcolm knows the importance of having an emergency plan.  "We have a plan and we know where to hunker down," says Malcolm.

As simple as it sounds, hunkering down could be just the thing that saves your life.

"Pick ahead of time a safe room in their house so they are prepared where to go in case a storm comes our way," says Vaught.

Because knowing what to do and acting quickly could keep you alive. Vaught says, "Don't take the time to gather belongings. Just get in a safe place and stay there."

"All this can be replaced, you know. We're just glad to be alive," says Billy Davis.

You've just seen the importance of taking cover when a storm approaches. But what do you do if you're outside? First, try to get indoors. If you can't, look for a ditch or low-lying area.  Lie face down and cover your head with your arms.

And remember, never get into a vehicle and try to outrun an approaching tornado.

WALB-TV will always alert you to severe weather, both on the air and on walb.com

Be sure to sign up for our severe weather alerts that you can receive in e-mail, on your cell phones and Blackberrys.

And we also recommend you buy a weather radio to wake you if you're sleeping.

You can buy one for about $30 and if you just bring it here to our studios, we'll program it for you.

We take severe weather seriously and we want you to as well. It could save your life.

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