Sole survivor in Americus duplex details how his friends died - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Sole survivor in Americus duplex details how his friends died

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March 15, 2007

Americus-  It was two weeks ago Thursday night that killer tornadoes hit South Georgia. Among the dead were two people from Americus, 43 year old Jerry Dukes and 53 year old Carrie Willis Gaines. They were killed inside a duplex that exploded from the force of the storm. Amazingly, one of their friends who was just a few feet from them, survived.

A shell is all that remains of the Oglethorpe Street duplex Travis Griffin called home. Just two weeks ago, his good friend Jerry Dukes stopped by to watch basketball. As ominous clouds billowed toward Americus, they stood on the porch watching.

"My neighbor, Miss Carrie, came on my porch and said someone called and said the same thing on her cell phone, they said its outside of Plains, can I sit with ya'll, I'm scare, and I said sure come inside," said Griffin.

The three went inside and huddled at the kitchen table as the storm approached.

"So we started praying, and three minutes you heard the winds coming through, stuff falling, and all of a sudden the tree came through the living room," said Griffin, he continued, "I ran to the corner, and I thought Miss Carrie was beside me, because she couldn't bend, she had a bad knee, she said, 'I cannot bend,' and I said Miss Carrie follow me, and when I looked, she was in one corner and, the wall, and I heard Jerry."

Griffin crouched in a corner as the duplex imploded. In a matter of seconds, and just a few feet away, Carrie Gaines lay dead. Jerry Dukes, trapped beneath a pile of cinder blocks, called to his friend for help.

"6'9, 6'9 help me man, get the wall off of me I can't breathe, I can't move," called Dukes.

Griffin did his best to help the man he considered a mentor.

"I didn't panic, I'm trying to get the wall off my friend, I'm thinking it's a wooden wall, I can get it off of him, but I couldn't so I went to get help,' said Griffin, he continued, "After we lifted it off of him and pulled him out, I realized and I said check him and make sure he's okay and I was like, no, no. I said, 'man, double check, he might be unconscious', and a good friend of mine, a classmate, said Travis man, he didn't make it."

Now it's those final moments with his friend that Griffin cherishes the most.

"I remember Jerry's last words when LeBron James went baseline and did a dunk and Jerry said, 'that's tough, look at that 6'9".

Griffin remembers the last phone call Dukes made to his wife.

"He called his wife and said, 'Kat are you okay?' and she said, 'Jerry I do not talk on the phone at a time like this.' He said, 'Okay baby, I understand, I'll call you back later," said Griffin.

Griffin still questions why his life was spared, but has found peace in talking with his pastor and feels his life has greater meaning.

"I have a tendency to love everybody, wear a smile everyday. I'm going to tend to do that, staying positive because I know one day we got to leave here, no one wants to suffer, but you have to understand when it's your time to go, it's your time to go," said Griffin.

Carrie Gaines and Jerry Dukes were among 9 Georgians killed by tornadoes March 1st. Six others died in Baker County and one man was killed in Taylor County.

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