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A Family Recalls A Frightening Tornado

Joe Holt

April 16, 1953, 5:30 p.m. It was Saturday. I was upstairs lying on my bed reading in a school history book about the War Between the States. There was a test the next week at school. It became dark, signaling an approaching storm, a typical late afternoon Georgia thunder boomer. Lightening was continuous, and the wind starting picking up. I went toward the window to close it. I could see stuff flying around in the air and heard the banging against the slate siding. Something hit the window and broke it. I ran downstairs!

Dad was standing at the kitchen window looking out. He had just finished putting new tops on the counter. "Wow! that looks like some storm coming," he said. "We had better go outside and get the clothes off the line." I walked out onto the small porch that was once on the kitchen and opened the screen door. The weeks wash was hanging on the line and the sheets were parallel to the ground flapping in the strong wind. When I opened the screen door it came off the hinges and was pulled into the air. I thought twice about going outside!

The sound of the storm by this time was deafening, like a freight train was rolling right through the house. It was raining so hard the neighbors's house could barely be seen. Dad suggested I get the kids into the bathroom, the smallest room, and ride out the storm. Susan and Nancy had a friend over and they were playing in the front bedroom. I believe Charles was there with them. We hurried into the bathroom and shut the door. We were one frightened bunch of people. We were at the mercy of this storm, waiting to see if the structure would protect us. It was obvious this was no ordinary storm.

I'll never forget Charles, who was 6 at the time, telling me to read the 'Good Book' to make the storm go away. We needed divine protection. Instead of reading, we prayed the Lord's Prayer together. Dad did not come into the bathroom with us. He was like the captain of the ship looking around at what needed to be done to protect his family and house. He was also very much concerned about where Mom was. She could not be located in the house.

Once the train had moved on down the track I went outside the bathroom to see what had happened. The living room was in shambles, also the fron bedroom. A piece of wood was sticking through the ceiling in the bedroom, it had blown through the roof and into the room. The front windows were blown out. The TV set, which was sitting against the front window in the living room, was now sitting screen down on the other side of the room. Susan and I rescued that right away! The rain was continuing to come down in torrents. It was still difficult to see what had happened outside.

Only Dad and Mom stayed in the house that night. I believe Susan and Nancy stayed with their friend and Fred and I stayed with Bob Barr. The next morning, when we could finally see, the neighborhood looked like a war zone. The air smelled of fresh pine and cut wood. The house took a strong blast, but it stood, and was repairable. We didn't have telephone service for about a month, I believe. Electricity was off several days.

Oma Holt

Ralph was putting new cabinet top material in the breakfast room that Saturday. Fred was downtown working at Kirven's, selling men's shoes. I was on my way downtown to pick Fred up from work. He was working at Kirven's in the shoe department. When I got to 4th avenue and 13th Street, the lights went out, but it wasn't too black that I remember. After Fred got in the car, we set out for home. By the time we got to the St.Elmo district, we noticed some trees in the road. I asked someone what had happened, and he said we had a real bad wind. I drove around trying to find a way around the debris. When I finally reached 17th Avenue and saw that it was impossible to get through, I wandered around until I got to the upper end of 18th Street. From there I could look down the street to where our house was. It was a wreck! The wind had ripped off much of the siding. Since our house was asbestos shingles over black tar paper, it looked like it had chicken pox. We got out of the car and ran down towards the house. Ralph said I was screaming, but I don't remember doing that! When I got into the living room, I saw the Claymore's roof (the house across the street) strewn all over the floor. I asked Ralph where our children were and he said a neighbor lady had taken them to her house. Fred said he was going to go see what had happened to the Ellerbee house which was several blocks away. That is where Sue, his lady love lived, so off he went. Ralph had a time quieting me down. I had always been afraid of storms, but never thought I would live through that! Luckily, however, none of us were hurt, and I thank God for that. We weren't so damaged that we couldn't live in our home until all was restored.

Nancy Adams

I well remember the tornado in 1953. I was in the fourth or fifth grade I believe. I was taking orchestra music in school, and had brought home a cello to practice on. My best friend, Susan Levy, had come over with a violin to practice with me. We were totally unaware of the change in weather as we worked on our music scales in the front bedroom. Best I remember, Daddy and Joe were finishing up laying new counter tops in the kitchen, and had been hard at work on them most of the day.

Charley and Susan were also home, but I can't remember what they were doing. Mother had gone downtown to pick Fred up from Kirven's where he worked in the men's shoe department for Mr. Walsh.

I'm not sure about this, but I think my friend and I finished our practice session and she went home. I do remember storing my cello under the bed, and proceeding to the bathroom for a bath. The next thing I knew, everyone was banging on the door and yelling for me to unlock it so they could come in. Seemed like a strange request to me, but they sounded awfully anxious, so I did. That's when I realized something horrible was happening because things were flying around the dining room behind them.

We huddled in the bathroom watching debris flying past the bathroom window until it seemed the worst of it was over, then went into the back bedroom where I saw our little playhouse outside come apart at the seams. It was a strange sight. I don't remember what anyone said except Charley. He kept saying,"Read the Bible! Read the Bible!" I have to agree it looked like the end of the world to me, so reading the Bible seemed very appropriate.

It was awesome to see how quickly the tornado leveled things. In the front bedroom where I had been sitting less than a half hour earlier, a huge beam had penetrated the wall beneath the windows as easily as if it had been a sharp spike slammed into place by a giant sledge hammer.I remember thinking how terrible it was the new counter tops had been destroyed. All that work for nothing. And then there was a sort of panic as we realized Mama and Fred might have been caught by the wind and possibly overturned in the car. There was much joy when they made their way home through the debris.

One of my final memories of that day is the odd yellow color beaming down from the sky following the storm. It was like a freakish sunshine in the midst of so much destruction. I've never forgotten how eerie that color was. Maybe that's why I've never been fond of yellow to this day. I have one more memory of that day which has affected my life. Every time I think about renovating a kitchen, I try to keep existing counter tops! Superstition? Maybe, but I have this inbred fear that if I install new counter tops, a big wind will come along and wipe them out!

Fred Holt

I was working at Kirven's Men's Shoes, and it was just about closing time (6:00 p.m.). I was closing out my cash drawer when the electrical power went off and the skies became extremely dark. My boss, Mr. Walsh, told me to get on home since there was no telling how long the power would be off, and he would close me out for the day.

Mother had come down to pick me up in the ever faithful Plymouth and I jumped in the car with he on 12th Street, just outside Kirven's entrance. By then the rain had begun falling and there was the usual late afternoon traffic to contend with. Mother wound our way toward 35th Street and as we turned onto Edgewood Road, I noticed that Weracoba Creek was getting full of water.

As we neared the Country Club entrance, several trees were down and we became concerned. If my memory serves me, by the time we got onto 17th Avenue, we were seeing many trees, power poles, cars, and some houses that had received damage. We REALLY got concerned then!

I don't remember that we could even get the car up the hill at 35th Street, but I DO remember my first sight of our house! The front porch had all but disappeared and there was a lot of roof damage. The brick house directly across the street from us was demolished to its slab! A lot of the lumber that once had been a part of that house was now sticking out of ours -- in the roof and side of the house--like tooth picks had been pushed into a piece of soft cake.

We ran into the house yelling for Dad and the rest of the crew. It was a real relief to hear their voices, believe me! Life was quite unsettled for several weeks after that. I remember some of us sleeping at a house down on 17th Avenue, but I couldn't tell you whose it was. We were very fortunate that no one was injured or killed!

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