November 6, 2002
ABBEVILLE AL - The Richards family begins cleaning up after a deadly storm that devastated her Rock Hill Circle neighborhood.
"My husband pinned me down here by the wall and it went over us, and it just went woosh, didn't take long," Amy Richards explains.
The tornado leveling dozens of Abbeville homes at 5:30 p.m. CST.
"We saw the roof when it folded back, then we felt rain, and it was all over."
But for Richards though the terrifying moment was over, the terror was just beginning, as she went next door to check on her brother-in-law.
"I saw his shoes and we just started digging, the house collapsed and tree fell on him and crushed him," she said.
54-year-old Wheeler Richards, just retired from the army as a Lieutenant Colonel in April was the only person killed, though 20 others, like Jacquelyn Johnson, were taken to the hospital.
"I'm thankful because I'm on top of the ground, the ground's not on top of me," Johnson said.
Uprooted trees show the path the tornado took, leaving the Rock Hill neighborhood and going straight for Abbeville High School.
"That's when I hollered for everybody to get down," Coach Moses Knight said.
Fifty high school basketball players were practicing inside the gym, now littered with bricks, tiles, and even a giant exhaust fan, but no one inside seriously injured.
"Just a blessing, because normally we would have been right under it during a drill," Knight explained.
The tornado continued on to overturn busses, crush windshields, and litter homes and roadways East of the school with debris.
But for all the miles of damage, there was just one fatality. Even that family considers themselves lucky. "God will give us the strength to deal with it," Amy Richards said. That's strength the community of 3,000 will certainly need.
The National Weather Service has not yet determined how strong the tornado was.
Abbeville has been calling on dozens of surrounding communities for support including some in Georgia.
The Red Cross offered aid to families, power crews worked to clear roadways, while state troopers kept people away from dangerous power lines. About half the city is still without power, and the school will be shut down until at least next week.
"We've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to revitalize downtown," Abbeville Mayor, Dan Blalock, said. "It's just a setback people willing to work together we'll overcome this."
So far they have not been able to determine just how many millions dollars of damage was done or how many people have been left homeless. Officials are also working to determine how long and wide a path of destruction was left behind.