Tornado escape: ‘If we would have stayed, none of us would have made it’

Published 1:57 pm Saturday, March 20, 2021

Trent Cox rushed his wife, daughter and two grandchildren across Chilton County Road 24 to his father’s home, just a few minutes before his home was destroyed by an apparent tornado Wednesday afternoon.

His father’s home has a basement. Cox’s well-built brick home was blown from the slab and the remnants were scattered for several hundred yards.

“You work 24 years and everything you have is gone in the blink of an eye,” he said, working to salvage what he could from the debris Thursday morning. “We have stuff scattered half a mile. There’s people that picked up some of our pictures two miles away.”

The group of about a dozen homes at the intersection of county roads 24 and 37, just over the Autauga line, received major damage. Two homes were destroyed. Others had roofs peeled off. The air was heavy with the scent of pine from shredded trees.


The family made it across the street just in time.

The debris from their home was blown through the dog kennel, where their German shepherd and Labrador retriever were. They made it.

“They’re out here running around somewhere,” he said. Sadly, a blue tick hound puppy was lost. “We took it to the vet after the storm, but he didn’t make it, he was too busted up.”

Errant wisps of pink insulation blew about as Cox looked over what used to be his home. His shop was also destroyed. Steel beams of the shop’s framing were twisted by the force of the wind. Cox looked back at the bare concrete slab that was his home just a day before.

“If we would have stayed, none of us would have made it,” he said. “No way. We’re thankful we all made it.”

A few hundred yards away, Sherrell Eaton and Jimmy Baker rushed to a 2-feet-by-2-feet closet in the middle of a brick home. The storm collapsed the exterior walls, leaving the closet and a corner bedroom the only things standing.

“We were watching the weather and had plenty of warning,” she said. “We walked out on the porch and could hear it coming. We were in the closet about two minutes before it hit. We could hear all the stuff breaking away from the house. The only thing you could do was talk to God.”

Eaton stood in the driveway, clutching a few photos in her hand. A friend helping her clean up brought a vintage silver dollar to her.

“Yeah, we had a bunch of these,” she said.

In the front yard was a water heater. They don’t know where it came from. A Corgi dog walked around getting pats from folks helping out. Someone had kicked a hole in the sheetrock so they could get into the bedroom to begin handing out clothes, shoes and whatever else could be found.

“We’ve got a bunch of good friends helping,” she said. “We made it and nobody that I know of up here got hurt. That’s the important thing.”

Just a few miles away in Autauga County, on County Road 24 in Billingsley, friends and family gathered at the home of Evelyn and George Cook. Several large pine trees were blown over in their yard, three were left leaning on the roof of their home.

“They’ve been here 52 years, and the trees were here when they got here,” said their daughter Carol Carter.


Evelyn Cook was in the closet under the stairs when the apparent tornado hit. She’s on oxygen being a COVID survivor. George Cook, a carpenter, was out on the porch.

“It was coming just a few seconds; that’s all it took,” he said. “I turned to get back into the house and the pressure had already changed. I had the push the door with my shoulder, putting all me weight to it to get it open.”

Help arrived just after the storm passed Wednesday bringing chainsaws and tractors.

“I don’t know what people without a church family do in time like this,” Carter said. “We have had so much help. We can get the house fixed. Mamma and Daddy are OK. That’s the important thing.”

Autauga and Chilton counties underwent several tornado warnings Wednesday, beginning at about 12:30 p.m. and stretching to about 10:30 p.m. Survey teams from the National weather Service office in Birmingham toured damaged areas in the county Thursday to determine if tornadoes had touched down.

In Autauga County there was one spotter confirmed tornado and several others that were radar indicted. The storms traveled over the same general areas in western Autauga County.

“We were very fortunate that we had no injuries or fatalities given the conditions Wednesday and the number of tornado warnings for Autauga County,” said Ernie Baggett, director of the county’s emergency management agency. “We suspect several tornadoes tracked along similar paths in the western part so the county. That is a sparsely populated area and we really didn’t receive many reports of storm damage.

“We were very lucky. It could have been much, much worse.”