When her mother's wet and muddy Bible handed to her, Pat Wheatley's tears came back.
She'd spent most of the day Saturday crying: A tornado had ripped through the farm she and husband Talmadge had shared for 35 years. Their house still stood - only missing a window - but a barn, travel trailer, storage trailer and chicken coop were gone.
And most of the other buildings and vehicles on the property were damaged.
"It's just unbelievable," Wheatley said Saturday, looking past the toppled oak, beyond where the barn used to be, and at her Old Clanton Road home. "You see people on TV and you ask 'How can they bear it?' I see now: we're alive. That's what matters."
Saturday's storm which spawned an F-2 tornado left a swath of damage along Old Clanton Road and in Windmill Plantation subdivision. Damage estimates topped $277,300 by Monday, but no injuries were reported during the storm.
As the stormy weather turned to clear days Sunday and Monday, the cleanup started. Heavy equipment and dozens of people came to help the Wheatleys, while neighbors helped each other in Windmill Plantation.
The storm began about 10:30 a.m. Saturday, as wind and rained pummeled the area. Then, the weather became more intense.
Talmadge Wheatley watched as a storm destroyed his farm. Luckily his home, which sits on the same land, survived with just a broken window.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"We were watching cartoons and the lights flickered," said Wheatley, who was spending the morning with her grandchildren a half-mile from her home.
Her husband had stayed home. She said the first signs of trouble she saw was a trampoline bouncing across the back yard, then the trees began falling.
"He said the whole house just shook," Wheatley said.
When the worst was over, the devastation at the farm was visible. Hay was everywhere and pieces of insulation and tin were hanging from trees.
"With the damage I've seen to this farm, there were at least 150 to 200 mph winds blowing through here," said Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker, walking through the debris.
Columbia County Sheriff's Office Deputy Chris Leopard was first to arrive at the scene of the Wheatley farm.
"Mr. Wheatley told me that he actually saw a twister," Leopard said . "And from the way the debris is wrapped around the trees I think we're probably looking at a small twister as well."
As people walked the Wheatley property, they looked for equestrian equipment, photographs, chickens and an orange farm cat. The 13 horses at the farm had been moved to another pasture Friday - a move that saved them from being in the path of the storm.
Pam and Kenneth Johnson found some tin from the Wheatley's farm more than a half-mile away in Windmill Plantation.
"Our yard got everything that blew out of our neighbors's yards," she said.
Damage in Windmill Plantation - excluding a demolished Ford Truck - was limited to uprooted trees, toppled fences, broken windows, stripped siding and missing shingles.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service may be coming to back to site of the weather-damaged farm in Evans to further determine what kind of storm tore through the property. If they do return, it will be sometime in the next couple of days, Chief Meteorologist Bernard Palmer said.
"The character of the damage is sometimes not clear-cut and we have to go back and look at several things, but rest assured there was significant and considerable damage no matter what the final determination is," he said. "Presently it is classified as a tornado."
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