April Tornadoes: One Year Later

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The scenes from that day let us know we were in for a long night.  Not only were storms capable of producing tornadoes that day, many tornadoes were considered strong to violent - with potential for winds over 200 miles per hour.

News Leader 9 was fully staffed that night to keep you ahead of the storms, and the first storms to affect Georgia crossed into southern Troup County before midnight.

Just south of LaGrange, Pastor Michael Hornsby and his wife were relaxing at home, after attending church earlier that evening.  As the storms edged closer and tornado warnings were issued. The Hornsbys rushed to the bathroom - the couple's tornado safe-place.

"I said I don't know what's going on, but all around us was crashing, we heard the house crashing apart and windows breaking and stuff like that," Hornsby said as the tornado bore down on their house.

The tornado destroyed the Hornsby's home, but Michael, his wife, and the couple's two dogs survived without a scratch.

"If I had sat there another minute, I'd have to picture I'd be blown out of the front of the house. I found the recliner I was sitting in underneath the front porch," Hornsby recalled.

A few days after the storm, we interviewed Michael.  He showed us a board that the tornado blew through his bathroom wall.  A year later, he still doesn't remember much about how it happened.

"I never heard that board come through the wall like a projectile that came off my swimming pool picket fence and drove itself through the wall right there above my head," he said.

"Little things like that remind you how fragile life is," he added.

The Hornsbys are now in a brand new house, in the same spot as their old one.  Scars from the tornado are still seen across the landscape.  And Michael, a pastor, gained a new perspective in his life.

"You're involved in the lives of people who go through a lot of different things, and suddenly when you're on that side of it, it's a different feeling," he tells us.

After this tornado moved out of our coverage area, we turned to a new storm we had been tracking.

Mountain View Elementary School in Manchester took a direct hit.  Carol Lane takes us back to the moment she first saw the damage, shortly after the tornado.

"When I got in the back of the school, I was just devastated by what I was observing. The roofs were gone, there was no playground equipment, there were no storage bins, and windows were blown out," the superintendent of Meriwether County Schools told us.

School was canceled there for the rest of the year, but thanks to the generosity of those in the community, the kids were still able to enjoy field day and awards day.  Six million dollars of repairs later, Mountain View Elementary students have a school that's as good as new, rebuilt in time for the first day of school last August.  Lane says, even though there was a tragic event, there was a silver lining.

"As bad as a situation as it was, you saw so much good in people," she told us.

Just two houses down from the school, Linda Moncreif, her husband jerry, and several other family members also dealt with the horror of that night.

"I don't think it's something you can ever get over.  You can never forget," Linda said.

Their home was destroyed by the EF-2 tornado, but Linda and her family were safe thanks to seeking shelter on the lowest floor of their home against a sturdy brick wall.

"That was the only wall left remaining of the house, and it was the only wall that had a partial roof left," Linda told us of their safe place.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, they saw the best of what the community had to offer.

"Family, friends, people we didn't know were helping.  Inside the house, outside the house, doing whatever they could, however they could, and everybody's house doing the exact same thing," she recalled.

After staying in a hotel, then with family, and later in a rented home, the Moncreifs moved into a new house the week of Thanksgiving.  Just down the road, a similar story unfolded as the tornado continued its path of destruction.

"We're both in our early 70s, but who would have ever thought we'd have to build a new house," said Jimmie Chapman, whose house was next in the tornado's path.

Jimmie and his wife charlotte had to do just that after the tornado destroyed their home.  They were with four other family members, including their four year old granddaughter.  The Chapmans say the tornado caught them off-guard.

"I ran to get my wife. My son and his wife and daughter got in the tub of our bathroom in the hallway.  I grabbed her hand and we jumped into the shower, face first, on the floor," Chapman said, recalling the events immediately before the tornado struck.

Their other granddaughter however, was still asleep in a bedroom on the other side of the house.  Unable to get to her before the tornado hit, the family feared the worst.

"We pushed a couch out of the way to get to her, got in that little bedroom, and she's on her back not moving, a four year old little girl.  I got over to her and put my hands on her, and she's covered in sheetrock and blown insulation, and she woke up. That 4 year old slept through a 155 mph storm," Chapman told us.

Thankful they were together - and unharmed - and with a new outlook on life.

"When I walked out of this house with those five other people who were in this house and we didn't have a scratch on us, I didn't care about the rest," he said.

The Chapmans, in a new house now, also have a new perspective on preparing for severe weather.

"If you remember, this last year we had some storms that we would come and we thought there would be another one, and every time that would happen, I can guarantee where we were.  We were in the basement," Chapman said.

Copyright 2012 WTVM. All rights reserved.