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Storms kill 17 in four states
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BOONE'S CHAPEL, Ala. (AP) — The home Willard Hollon had shared with his son and granddaughters is gone now, as is the one where his daughter lived, both twisted from their foundations by a tornado and tossed into the woods nearby. The storms that devastated the Deep South destroyed his family, too: Willard, his son Steve and daughter Cheryl all were killed when the winds roared through.
The storms that smacked the Midwest and South with howling winds and pounding rain left 17 people dead in four states, including the Hollons. Steve Hollon had recently retired from the Air Force and moved into his father's home with his wife and two daughters while they remodeled a home of their own up the road — he had come to this small community about 25 miles from Montgomery to be closer to his dad.
Henley Hollon lived across the street from his brother Willard and had come outside after the storm passed to make sure everyone was all right. The winds whirled, the lights went out and it all lasted less than a minute, he said. All he saw were a set of wooden steps and flowerbeds, the blooms still on the plants as though nothing happened.
Henley Hollon talked about his family with Gov. Robert Bentley, who visited to comfort victims. The two looked at Hollon family photos that neighbors had pulled from debris scattered over a quarter-mile, as Hollon told Bentley he and his wife didn't have time to get into a hallway when they realized the tornado was hitting.
“If God wanted us, we was in the big room where He could have got us,” Hollon said. “I don’t try to outguess God.”
A weather service meteorologist estimates the tornado's winds reached 140 to 150 mph.
Hymnals still rested on the pews at the nearby Boone's Chapel Baptist Church, even though the walls and roof had blown away. Tammie Silas joined other church members to clean up the debris and came upon two photos of the Hollon family.
"This is all they've got left," Silas said as she clutched the pictures.
Willard Hollon's wife, Sarah, his granddaughters and Steve's wife all survived.
In Alabama's Washington County, about 50 miles north of Mobile, a mother and her two children were among those killed, said county coroner Rickey Davidson. Jean Box, 38, and her two teenage sons, Shelton and Hunter, died when the storm demolished a double-wide mobile home in the Deer Park community, said Washington County Chief Deputy Terry Beasley.
The woman's husband survived and was in the hospital, he said. Winds had thrown things 100 yards from where the home had stood.
In Marengo County in west-central Alabama, four separate tornadoes hit over the span of about five to six hours, emergency management director Kevin McKinney said.
A state of emergency had been declared for the whole state, and even the first NASCAR race of a busy weekend at Talladega Superspeedway was postponed.