Locals share tornado stories

Published 2:22 am Friday, June 23, 2017

Just before the sun set on Wednesday, a tornado warning was issued in Covington County, and local law enforcement confirmed a tornado was on the ground.

The tornado passed through Onycha, Horn Hill, Babbie and continued up to the Harmony community, according to reports from local residents who captured images of the tornado.

Opp Police Department C-Shift officers and Covington County Sheriff’s deputies closed U.S. Hwy. 84 and observed the tornado on the ground tracking north near the intersection of Hwy. 84 West and County Road 77.

“Law enforcement officials opened U.S. Hwy. 84 once the tornado crossed the roadway and then followed the tornado to an area north of Babbie,” Opp Police Chief Mike McDonald said. “Officers observed a debris cloud associated with the tornado as they tracked and reported its location.”

Covington County Emergency Management Agency Director Susan Harris said her department has completed the damage assessment from the Onycha area, and found four houses with minor damage, three houses with major damage and two barns destroyed.

Churchgoers had just arrived at Babbie Baptist Church for Wednesday night service when the outside tornado warning sirens sounded.

“As soon as we arrived at church at Babbie Baptist at 6:45, the alerts started going off,” said Heather Currie Bryan. “We placed everyone in the hallway, and watched the live report on our phones. They gave an estimated timeline of 20 minutes, and it was clear we were in the estimated path. Fifteen minutes later, a police officer told some of the men outside to immediately take cover. The tornado had been spotted on the ground just up the road. Afterward, you could see a clear path the tornado took between the church and a house on Hwy. 84. There were trees twisted and some tops completely missing.”

For Bryan, this wasn’t her first bout with a tornado.

“I experienced the same exact thing during the aftermath of Hurricane Opal,” she said. “It’s a sound you never forget.”

Andrea Smith and her family live in the Harmony community.

“We were sitting on the couch watching TV, when I got a call from my mom telling me there was a tornado heading our way,” she said. “My husband went outside to look up at the sky and across the pasture through the pecan trees, he could see the funnel cloud. He told me to clean out the pantry just in case it touched down, we would be ready.

“While still in the pasture, it did form a tornado, which he told the kids and I to come look at because we had never seen one,” she said. “We came out to look. It was headed our way, but looked as if it was going to go between our house and my in-laws’ house. Then, the wind shifted and it was heading straight toward our house, but thank the Lord, it went back up into the full cloud and blew over our house. We could hear the circle of the wind and limbs falling out of our tree when it came over. We only lost one pecan tree from the tornado. We were in the pantry when it came over our house, praying.”

Kelly and Lance McCollough had their youth group at their home Wednesday evening when the storm came.

“We had the youth group at our house last night,” she said. “They were put in a safe place and my husband and youth pastor watched it cross the road about a mile from the house.”

Pamela Osborn and her husband live on George Boles Road in Babbie.

“We saw the tornado cross the bypass coming to us,” she said. “Just a typical rainy afternoon changed real fast for our family. Our phones began alerting for a tornado warning as the siren also began in the Babbie Community.”

Obsorn said her family quickly turned on the television and tuned into a local television station, where they were reporting tornado rotation near Horn Hill.

“My granddaughter, 23 years old, was home alone, and we were giving her instructions on where to go in her home,” she said. “My husbands and daughters and their families all stood outside watching the sky when we realized the tornado was coming. We rounded the children up and quickly got in a safe place. We realized we were not in the direct path so we continued to record live feed on Facebook warning others that were in the path. The tornado was very large. We witnessed debris flying in the air and could hear trees popping as it crossed over the property line behind our home.

Osborn said her family learned a valuable lesson Wednesday.

“I guess the scariest part of this day was that we were under a tornado watch,” she said. “We had not taken that serious and just continued our normal activities. When the warning came, we had little time to get to a safe place and could not have driven to a safer building. My family and I will be better prepared and have a plan in place next time we are under a tornado watch. Things could have ended much differently, and we are so thankful for God’s protection.”

On Horn Hill Road, Ingemar and Jan Johnson’s home had several trees down and some siding blown off.

Their son Ely said no one was injured and they had been working all morning Thursday to get the debris cleaned up.

Harris said anyone with damage that hasn’t been reported to the EMA office is asked to call 334-428-2670.