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April 29, 2014

'God has a plan for us': Residents pick up pieces after powerful Monday storms

SIMCOE — Tina Fernandez held back tears Tuesday morning and got busy.

With just a few hours sleep from the night before, she didn’t have time to cry as she salvaged pictures and other belongings from her destroyed mobile home before another round of damaging storms moved through the region Tuesday afternoon.

Amidst the tangled debris of what had been the home Fernandez shared with Chad Smoker on County Road 747, the couple seemed dazed but determined to pull away what items they could — a flat-screen TV that somehow made it through unscathed, family photos and clothes.

The couple had moved in just last month. Smoker was to start a new job Tuesday. As the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings for a storm moving east from southern Cullman County, the couple decided to leave.

“We stayed with my father in Eva, and we weren’t here when it hit,” Fernandez said.

Added Smoker: “Missed it by just 30 minutes.”

The mangled structure was blown off its foundation, then twisted and rolled, smashing everything — walls, furniture — inside. Their wooden front porch remains in place.

Their neighbor Scott Bartlett ran from his house nearby after the storm hit and saw a dark mass in the field behind where the mobile home had been.

“I couldn’t really see that well because it was dark. I could just see what could have been their trailer,” Bartlett said. “It scared us all because we thought they may have been trapped in it, but then we saw their car was gone.”

Bartlett had rode out the storm with his wife, Bethany, and their 14-year-old son, Austin, in their house, leaving their storm shelter when the meteorologists on TV predicted it would go south of their home through Holly Pond.

“I was the one trying to coax people out, saying it would be OK,” Bartlett said with a laugh. “We were in the house and our company was in our shelter.”

Bethany’s sister, brother-in-law, uncle and his children took shelter in the storm pit Bartlett built after a close call during the devastating April 2011 tornadoes.

“We’ve only been in it once before last night (Monday),” he said.

A tractor and lawnmower parked underneath a metal carport behind their home sustained damage when the carport was blown away. A portion of wood fencing around the family’s pool was also blown down.

“We’re waiting on insurance to come look at it,” he said. “It could be worse.”

Bartlett’s mother, Melba, lives in between her son’s house and rents the land on the other side of her house to Fernandez and Smoker. Melba Bartlett was in her home when the storm hit too, running to a inside hallway when the power went out.

“It hit the house, and you could feel it,” she said. “I just thank the Lord we’re all OK, that no one was hurt and my son and I have our houses.”

On the other side of Scott Bartlett’s home, the Vega family rode out the storm in their home, however tree limbs damaged the front and back of the house and smashed the back window of their sport utility vehicle. Huge pine trees were snapped in half and others uprooted in the pasture nearby.

As for Fernandez and Smoker, the couple is staying with family, but they don’t have insurance to cover everything they lost. While the couple picked through their belongings, they were visited by neighbor Ginny Schaefers and her daughter who noticed the damage when driving by. They brought the couple a pack of bottled water and their prayers.

“We live just two miles up the road, and we have four kids,” Schaefers said. “I couldn’t imagine going through this.”

Although uncertain of what lies ahead, Fernandez remained optimistic.

“We’ll get through this,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason, and I know God has a plan for us.”

Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at towens@cullmantimes.com or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.

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