Storm Tales: Home 'Reduced To Studs'; 'We Survived'

Morning Edition hears from listeners who witnessed the deadly storms in Mississippi, Tennessee and North Carolina. A sheriff's official says there's debris "everywhere you look in every direction." A small-town fire chief chokes up, saying the tough part is "it's always people you know." And residents recount how they rode out the storms.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Obama visits Alabama today for a first-hand look at the destruction caused by one of the deadliest tornadoes clusters in U.S. history.

As of this morning, nearly 300 people are known to be dead across several states. We heard from listeners throughout the South who offered to share their stories. We begin with Lance Chancellor of Jones County, Mississippi Sheriff's Department. He was dispatched to the small town of Smithville.

Mr. LANCE CHANCELLOR (Sheriff's Department, Jones County, Mississippi): There are brick structures here, brick homes, that were reduced to nothing left but the slab, and the carpet that was glued down on that slab was actually sucked up by the tornadoes.

The police department, they lost all of their patrol cars. They were all slammed into the building. A communications tower collapsed across a couple of them. I'm looking at the remains of the United States Post Office. There is literally about a 20-foot section of brick wall that's left standing, and just debris everywhere you look in every direction.

Mr. TIM COKER (Assistant Chief, Smithville Fire Department): I'm Tim Coker, assistant chief with the Smithville Fire Department. It's - we're all kind of like a small family more than a community, because we all kind of grew up together and we all know each other. So it's pretty traumatic for everybody.

The hardest thing probably about being a volunteer, is it's always people you know. That's kind of the tough part. So you just kind of put the walls up and move on. It'll kind of sink in later, usually.

Ms. JENNIFER SWIFT (Raleigh, North Carolina): My name is Jennifer Swift, and I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was actually watching the news, so we were tracking the storm, and we realized it was coming right for us as it was headed for downtown. We went into the back of the building and took cover, because I have a two-year-old son and a couple of dogs.

And by the time we got into cover, we felt the storm hit. We could feel the pressure change and we heard a huge crack, and I thought it was a tree coming down outside, because we have a lot of big old trees on the grounds, but it ended up being my upstair neighbor's roof caving in on them. So - and them immediately water started pouring down through our ceiling.

Our insurance put us up in a temporary hotel until we, kind of, figure out what's going on, because our condo has been reduced to studs. So we're looking at, maybe on the outside, six to eight months of reconstruction. We're just taking it day by day now.

Mr. STEVEN McAMUS (Cleveland, Tennessee): My name is Steven McAmus, I am in Cleveland, Tennessee. And I had the family in the bathroom - tiny bathroom downstairs, and cushions over their heads, and answering their questions as to what was going on because I was looking out the windows.

And the trees were moving in ways I've never seen them before. We survived, but people just a couple miles down from us didn't. And I remember late that night I was standing on my front porch, and I watched the funnel cloud go past. You get that impression that you don't know whether or not you're next, especially when the world looks like it's trying to pulling up trees right outside your window.

MONTAGNE: That was Steven McAmus, Lance Chancellor, Tim Coker and Jennifer Swift. They witnessed the storms which devastated the south this week.

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