As It Happens

'I thank the Lord,' declares Alabama woman rescued from tornado-ravaged home

When Earnestine Reese, 72, emerged from the rubble of her tornado-ravaged Alabama home on Sunday with a broken hip, her first reaction was to thank God for her good fortune.

72-year-old Earnestine Reese is a 'super trooper,' says nephew

Earnestine Reese, 72, survived the deadly tornado that rippled through rural Alabama on Sunday. In this still from a Facebook video, she is pictured sitting amid the rubble of her former home. (Delrico Eiland/Facebook )

Transcript

When Earnestine Reese, 72, emerged from the rubble of her tornado-ravaged Alabama home on Sunday with a broken hip, her first reaction was to thank God for her good fortune. 

"I thank the Lord," Reese can be heard saying in a Facebook video. Sitting in a chair amid the scattered remnants of her house, she tells her grandson over FaceTime: "You tell God, 'Thank you, God.' You hear me?"

"She's a great woman," her nephew Delrico Eiland, who shared the video online, told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I call her a super trooper."

At least 23 people, some of them children, were killed when a tornado tore through Bauregard, Ala. on Sunday.

The trail of destruction was nearly 1.4 kilometres wide and at least 38 km long with maximum winds of 273 km/h, according to Emergency Measures Agency state director Brian Hastings.

Rescuers continued to search through the rubble of mobile homes and houses Monday looking for survivors.

'It happened within 10 seconds'

Reese was at home with her daughter and son-in-law and their 15-year-old son when it struck, Eiland said.

They'd received warning on their cellphones that it was coming, giving them just enough time to take shelter the bathroom, where they huddled together as the walls crumbled down around them. 

"They just said it sounded like a train coming in. This foundation started shaking and my little cousin was screaming he didn't want to die, he didn't want to die," Eiland said.

 "It happened within 10 seconds. It was over with."

Debris and a damaged house seen following a tornado in Beauregard, Ala. (Scott Fillmer via Reuters)

When the tornado had passed, the boy and his parents were able to claw their way out of the rubble before turning their efforts toward rescuing Reese.

Eiland was about 15 kilometres away when he got the call that his aunt was trapped.

"I had to walk and hike, go over trees — and there were trees down, power lines down — so I had to walk maybe a mile and a half, two miles to get to their house, to get to them," he said. "I arrived before the first responders did."

'War zone'

By the time he arrived on the scene, his aunt was free, sitting on chair on the foundation of her former home, wrapped in coats and blankets.

All around her, as far as the eye could see, was devastation.

"It was catastrophic. I mean, just total destruction," Eiland said. "It looked like a Third World country war zone," 

This photo provided by James Lally shows a funnel-shaped cloud on I-10 near Marianna, Fla., Sunday, March 3, 2019. Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon as the powerful storm system raced across the region. (James Lally/Associated Press)

Most of Reese's neighbours — some of whom are family — didn't make it, he said.

Reese is now in hospital recovering from a broken hip, and she continues to express her gratitude, Eiland said. 

"She was in good spirits. She thanked the lord for just being alive," he said. "You know, worldly possessions can be replaced, but lives can't."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Produced by Allie Jaynes. 

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