Tornado Survivor: 'By the Grace of God, I Got Out'

Posted February 18, 2008 5:23 a.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2008 8:08 p.m. EST

— A storm system caused damage in eight counties as it moved through eastern North Carolina overnight Sunday, and a Greene County family of three survived a category F2 tornado.

The family escaped with only scrapes, bruises and a few stitches after the tornado, which carried winds of 120-137 mph, demolished their Loop Road house in Hookerton early Monday.

Shannon Edwards, 19, said she was in bed around 4 a.m. when she heard what sounded like a train about to come through her window. Her mother, Wanda, was in a nearby bedroom, and her father, Saint Paul, was downstairs on the couch getting ready for work.

"It sounded like a big old train. And then the house started moving, and I'm watching the house go," Saint Paul Edwards said. "And I'm still sitting on the couch, and all of a sudden, I get thrown out of the couch onto the floor on my stomach."

“My whole bed flipped up and tossed me into my closet,” Shannon said. “I landed on my stomach, and I heard my mom yelling for me.”

Shannon was buried underneath 8 feet of furniture and debris. A small jewelry box was all that kept her dresser off her, Shannon said.

"It took me a while to get out, and I could hear my baby say, 'Help me, Daddy. Help me, Daddy," Saint Paul Edwards said.

While he ran for help, Wanda, who had escaped from under her bed, prayed with Shannon.

"All I did was talk to God the whole time, and I knew things were OK," said Shannon, who is a nursing student at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro and who was home visiting for the weekend. "I was like, 'God, this can't be it. I have too much work to do.'"

Rescuers managed to get Shannon out more than an hour later, "by the grace of God," she said.

"There is a God. Believe me, there is a God," Saint Paul Edwards said.

The same tornado that hit the Edwards' house damaged the roof of a nearby mobile home and snapped a few tree limbs.

Storm damage was reported in seven more counties: Camden, Chowan, Beaufort, Lenoir, Martin, Pasquotank and Sampson.

Preliminary reports indicated that a second tornado was what caused damaged in Beaufort County, according to the National Weather Service.

A building on Bear Grass Road was flattened, and four tobacco barns were destroyed, officials said. About a half-mile from that location, a house's roof, front porch and utility building sustained extensive damage, officials said.

Numerous showers and isolated thunderstorms passed over the heart of central North Carolina overnight. Strong storms produced gusty winds up to 40 mph.

The NWS reported that the storm dropped 0.29 inches of rain at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, 1.26 inches in Fayetteville, 2.29 inches in Lumberton and 0.93 inches in Wilmington.

The storms that crossed North Carolina were part of a larger system that spawned tornadoes and strong winds in three other states Sunday.

"From a severe weather standpoint, this is just kicking off way earlier than it normally does," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

In Pratville, Ala., an category tornado with winds between 140 and 150 mph tore a path a quarter-mile wide, injured 29 people and damaged 200 homes and up to 100 businesses.

A tornado destroyed four home and more than 60 businesses in the Florida Panhandle.

The NWS could not confirm if tornadoes struck Georgia, but state officials said strong winds left 10 people injured and more than 50 homes either damaged or destroyed.

"That's the state of the science right now, in all honesty, that you have to mention the potential for these isolated events," Fishel said. "They won't happen the majority of the time, but boy, when they do, (for) the people that are affected, it's a big deal."