After tornadoes strike the Southeast, Ga. residents recount the terror

PEMBROKE, Ga. — Ashley Jackson was in bed with her fiance, Harry Bostick, when they heard a hopscotch tornado through town, terrifying residents.

“We heard the whistling,” said Jackson, 30. “My dad was in his room. We heard the noise and ran toward his room, and the wall and everything fell on us.”

“Everything” was the entire house, crushed late Tuesday afternoon by toppling pecan trees as a string of intense thunderstorms raced across the Southeast. More than 38 tornadoes were reported over the course of the day, with particularly destructive twisters hitting Georgia and South Carolina.

In Pembroke, about 30 miles west of Savannah, Jackson and Bostick struggled to breathe under the debris but managed to cry for help. Bostick’s father came to their rescue soon after.

“The house was crushed,” said Harry Bostick Sr., who lives within shouting distance of his son.

Bostick said he was able to find his son when he saw his hand poking out of the ruins.

“Just the fingers,” he said, “but as I kept pulling up boards, I saw my whole son’s arm. His arm popped up. And then I helped get them out.”

Deadly storms tear across Southeast, unleash damaging tornadoes

Bostick’s son, his fiancee and Jackson’s father suffered only cuts and bruises. The house next door was also demolished, but a woman inside survived.

Not everyone was so fortunate. At least one death was reported in the Pembroke area on Tuesday. A woman in her 60s in the nearby unincorporated Ellabell died inside her home, and eight others were injured.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) surveyed the damage Wednesday, even as another storm threatened the area. He declared a state of emergency, and said Tuesday could have been far worse.

“This storm, from what we’re seeing and now learning, was what we fear the most,” Kemp said. “It was a pop-up, devastating become. The only good thing that happened last night was that it didn’t stay on the ground. It went up and down, bouncing.”

“We’re blessed that it wasn’t a prolonged on-the-ground event,” he added.

By afternoon Wednesday, many streets in Pembroke and Ellabell remained blocked off as power crews worked to restore lines and service. The pungent smell of freshly toppled trees, their backs broken, hung in the air.

The small patch of homes where Jackson and Bostick lived sits in the shadow of the Bryan County Courthouse. The storm sheared off part of its roof and toppled a flagpole and two historical markers.

Lt. Joseph Waters, security supervisor at the courthouse, was guarding the front door Wednesday. The courthouse sustained wind and water damage.

“Never thought it would happen here,” Waters said.

He said there was no telling when things would return to normal. It was too soon for that. The county was still assessing the damage and securing facilities and neighborhoods.

Waters has worked for the sheriff’s office for 28 years, long enough to remember a previous tornado in 1998.

“The paths were a little different,” he said, but the same basic area, “maybe a mile or so left or right of where it went last night.”

Less than a quarter-mile from the courthouse, Marilee Hassani, 71, and her husband, Joseph, 69, live in a quaint gray home on South College Street. The storm tore off their chimney and one front pillar.

On Wednesday, two rocking chairs sat in the yard.

“It sounded like a freight train coming at us,” Hassani said. “We ended up in the hallway, and trees were hitting the house. … It was horrible.” She said the worst of it lasted about five minutes. “I thought the house was going to get knocked down.”

“It looked like an apocalypse,” said her husband, a former contractor. “Bloody, wicked, loud noise. Things banging, scraping. … I actually was physically frozen, scared. I couldn’t even react.”

He said he heard local weather warnings, but within 20 minutes the tornado was upon them. They escaped the danger without a scratch.

Amid worries about the next round of storms, Jackson and Bostick were gathering what they had been able to salvage in laundry baskets and boxes. They were headed for a school that had become a staging area for law enforcement and numerous state agencies, and a place to get donated supplies. The tattoo was inked across her left forearm.

“Til my last day,” it read.

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