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Young family counts blessings after tornado roars through

WARTBURG, Tenn. (BP)–Another night of rehearsal for the church’s annual Christmas play had just concluded when word of impending danger came — a tornado was bearing down on Morgan County. Like the rest of those gathering for Calvary Baptist Church’s worship service, Donnie and Allison Smith decided to head for safer confines.

It was a decision that saved their lives. Smith recounted his story for Baptist Press during an interview in a field of debris just yards from his mother-in-law’s house.

Instead of driving to their mobile home in the Joyner community, the Smiths decided to wait out the storm at his mother-in-law’s — in Mossy Grove.

“We were all set to go home but my wife wanted to go to her mother’s house because it was closer to the church,” Smith said. “And that’s what we did.”

While the killer tornado moved toward Morgan County, the Smiths ate supper, watched the television and Donnie managed to get a trim from his hair-stylist wife.

“We had no idea what was about to happen next,” said Smith in an interview with Baptist Press.

A tornado, later rated as an F-3 by the National Weather Service, bounded over the mountain ridges of Morgan County and tore into the small community of Mossy Grove. With winds well over 130 mph, the deadly twister destroyed houses and lives. Seven people died in the Mossy Grove area and several dozen were injured.

“I was really concerned about our seven-month-old little girl,” Smith said. “We put the whole family in a hallway and piled pillows and mattresses on top. My brother-in-law and I thought we needed to get some flashlights in case we lost power.”

The two men walked outside to their trucks but before they could open the door, they heard a loud wind.

“We turned around and saw it coming,” he said. “We ran back into the house and dove under the mattresses.”

Smith said he had never heard a sound so loud as the tornado. “It just roared,” he said. “And then, it was over.”

The storm had knocked out power to the community and Smith said it was too dark to see the damage.

“When we saw all the emergency crews coming in, we realized that it must have been pretty bad,” he said.

Just 200 yards from his in-law’s home, the tornado destroyed houses and took the lives of their neighbors.

Smith joined others in the community to search for survivors. Later that evening, he received some even more shocking news.

“I ran into another brother-in-law and he told me that our home had been destroyed in the tornado,” he said. “If we would have been at home, we would have been killed.”

The following day, Smith had a chance to view what was left of his home.

“Our house is gone,” he said. “And my truck was beat up, too.”

Smith said his fellow church members immediately came to his family’s side. Some stopped by to assist in salvage efforts, while others washed soiled clothing found in the rubble.

Despite his close call with disaster, Smith said he is happy that his wife and daughter are safe. “There is no doubt in my mind that God is in control,” he said. “It’s not up to me to decide why this tornado happened. It just did. I’m just counting my blessings because if we had been in that trailer….”

Smith gazed out over a field of debris and hugged his wife as a cold morning mist settled into the valley.

“We’re going to be all right,” he said.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HOLDING TO FAITH and AMID THE DEBRIS.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes