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After tornadoes hit the Southeast, Georgia residents tell of the terror

PEMBROKE, Ga. – Ashley Jackson was in bed with her fiancé, Harry Bostick, when they heard a hopscotch tornado across town, terrifying the locals.

“We heard the whistle,” Jackson, 30, said. “…We heard the noise and ran to his room, and the wall and everything fell on us.”

“Everything” was the whole house, crushed late Tuesday afternoon by the toppling of pecan trees as a series of intense thunderstorms rolled through the southeast. More than 38 tornadoes were reported during the day, with particularly destructive tornadoes hitting Georgia and South Carolina.

In Pembroke, about 30 miles west of Savannah, Jackson and Bostick struggled to breathe under the debris but managed to scream for help. Bostick’s father came to their rescue soon after.

“The house was crushed,” said Harry Bostick Sr., who lives within shouting distance of his son.

Bostick said he was able to find his son when he saw his hand coming out of the ruins.

“Just the fingers,” he said, “but as I kept pulling planks, I saw my son’s whole arm. His arm popped out. And then I helped pull them out.

Deadly storms cross the southeast, triggering destructive tornadoes

Bostick’s son and his fiancée suffered only cuts and bruises. The neighboring house was also demolished, but a woman inside survived.

Not everyone was so lucky. At least one death was reported Tuesday in the Pembroke area. A woman in her 60s in nearby unincorporated Ellabell died inside her home and eight others were injured.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (right) assessed the damage Wednesday, even as another storm threatened the area. He said Tuesday could have been much worse.

“This storm, from what we’re seeing and learning now, was what we feared the most,” Kemp said. “It was a devastating pop-up tornado. The only good thing that happened last night was that it didn’t stay on the ground. It was going up and down, bouncing around.

“We’re blessed it wasn’t an extended on-court event,” he added.

As of Wednesday afternoon, many streets in Pembroke and Ellabell remained blocked as power crews worked to restore lines and service. The pungent smell of freshly felled trees, broken backs, wafted through the air.

The small patch of homes where Jackson and Bostick lived sits in the shadow of the Bryan County Courthouse. The storm tore off part of its roof and toppled a mast and two historic bollards.

Courthouse security supervisor Lt. Joseph Waters was guarding the front door when the tornado struck. The courthouse was damaged by wind and water.

“I never thought it would happen here,” Waters said.

He said it was impossible to say when things would return to normal. It was too early for that. The county was still assessing the damage and securing facilities and neighborhoods.

Waters worked for the sheriff’s office for 28 years, long enough to remember a previous tornado in 1998.

“The paths were a little different,” he said, but the same base area, “maybe a mile or so to the left or right of where he went last night.”

Less than a quarter mile from the courthouse, Marilee Hassani, 71, and her husband, Joseph, 69, live in a quaint gray house on South College Street. The storm ripped out their chimney and a front pillar.

On Wednesday, two rocking chairs sat in the yard.

“It looked like a freight train coming towards us,” Hassani said. “We ended up in the hallway and trees were hitting the house. … It was awful.” She said the worst lasted about five minutes. “I thought the house was going to be demolished.”

“It felt like an apocalypse,” said her husband, a former entrepreneur. “Bloody, mean and loud noise. Things that rattle, scratch. … I was actually physically frozen, scared. I couldn’t even react.

He said he heard local weather warnings, but within 20 minutes the tornado was upon them. They escaped the danger without a scratch.

Amid concerns about an upcoming round of storms, Jackson and Bostick were gathering what they were able to salvage in laundry baskets and boxes. They were heading to a school that had become a staging area for law enforcement and many state agencies, and a place to get donated supplies. A tattoo has been inked on his left forearm.

“Until my dying day,” he said.

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