A Tornado Survival Story: Swept Away Into God’s Hands
On the evening of March 24, 2023, Rolling Fork resident Alton Lee was sitting on the side of his bed watching the news and weather. The meteorologist was talking about the storm when he stopped abruptly. He announced that everyone who was watching should take shelter immediately. Lee grabbed a pair of pants, put on a shirt, and rushed to his living room. That’s when his house began to shake and the loud noises began.
“For about two seconds, everything went silent, so quiet that you could hear your heartbeat,” said Lee. “Then it was just like a freight train was coming, a big old loud noise. My trailer just went to rocking and shaking. It threw me from one side of the room to the other and behind the couch. I was trying to get up when I realized we were floating in the air.”
Lee estimated that the tornado had taken the mobile home up off the ground about 20 feet. The trailer disintegrated into splinters as all sorts of debris struck him mid-air. He wrapped his hands and arms around his head as his only protection, and he could still feel the debris hitting his body and back. Peeping through his arms, he could see a clothes dryer hurling toward him.
“Listen, I’ve been in a lot of situations, but this was the first time I cried out to God. I said, ‘ Lord, I guess this is my time. This is how I’m supposed to leave here.’ I thought the dryer was going to kill me, but instead it was a blessing. When it hit me, it kind of knocked me out of that cycle and down towards the ground. Then something else hit me and knocked me out. I came to hours later,” Lee explained.
The tornado had hit Rolling Fork just after 8:30 pm that Friday evening, and the first responders found Lee around 3 am Saturday morning. They had come on four-wheelers, yelling and hoping somebody would hear them. All Lee could do was keep hitting a piece of tin that was laying across him. Thankfully, the first responders heard him and came over to dig him out of the debris. After carrying him to the highway by four-wheeler, he was taken to the local hospital.
Lee later learned that it was a roof from another house that had covered him. He was found more than a half a mile from where his home once stood.
“As long as I live, I will never forget it. God had me in the palm of his hand, and there ain’t no other way for me to say it. I had no control over nothing. I ain’t never felt so helpless as I did when I was in that air, upside down. It was just tossing and turning me. I remember seeing a real big dark cloud further up and I knew if I got up there I would be dead. I could see cars floating up there,” said Lee.
Lee said that was the first tornado he has ever experienced, and he hopes it’s the last. Everything on the street where he lived was destroyed, a total of seven mobile homes.
“It looks like somebody came through with a broom and swept the ground. There’s nothing left. People thought I was dead, and some drove all the way from Texas thinking they were coming to identify a body,” said Lee.
Lee still relives the story at night when he goes to sleep. A day after the tornado, he went back to where his house used to be. The steps were still there, so he sat down on them and cried. He had lived there for 22 years, and now he had lost everything he had spent his life working for. He was 60 years old, and he had nothing more than the clothes on his body. For now, Lee is staying with friends in Greenville. He still visits Rolling Fork each day, just to look around – and because it is his home.
As I sat on the steps, “I said, ‘Lord, where do I go from here?’ But God is good, and I know I’ll be ok, slowly but surely,” said Lee.
Cajun Navy Ground Force learned of Lee’s story when his grandson, CJ, showed up at our SAFE Camp. He helps out by making sure the trash is emptied, generators are full of gas, ice chests are stocked, and he just helps out wherever needed.
To learn more about becoming a volunteer, visit https://gocajunnavy.org/.
You can donate online at https://give.GoCajunNavy.org/.