Image: Storm damage in Boone's Chapel, Ala.
Amanda Sowards  /  Montgomery Advertiser via AP
Only stairs and flowers remain Saturday, April 16, 2011 after severe winds tore a mobile home off it's lot late Friday night in Boone's Chapel, Ala., in Autauga County. Vicious storms and howling winds smacked the Deep South, killing at least seven people in Alabama including three family members whose homes were tossed into nearby woods.
updated 4/16/2011 5:56:26 PM ET 2011-04-16T21:56:26

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 parts of 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 left 17 people dead in four states, including the Hollons. The system then plowed east through North Carolina and Virginia on Saturday.

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In North Carolina's capital, Raleigh, a tornado damaged homes and business, Raleigh, and stranding hikers in western part of the state with flooding. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management reported on its Twitter feed that at least eight houses were destroyed and four people injured.

In Alabama, 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. An American flag once displayed outside Cheryl's home had been draped over a tree branch about 100 feet away.

"When I shined the light out there I could see it was all gone," Willard Hollon said.

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.

Image: Janette Bentley stands near an uprooted tree in front of her Tuscaloosa, Ala., home on Veterans Memorial Parkway on Friday after a tornado went through
Michelle Lepianka Carter  /  AP
Janette Bentley stands near an uprooted tree in front of her Tuscaloosa, Ala., home on Veterans Memorial Parkway on Friday after a tornado went through.

A neighbor, retired Alabama Power employee Don Headley, echoed what others in an area accustomed to nasty weather and the threat of tornadoes had said: When the storm bore down on them, they thought the worst had already ended. He had been on his patio and thought he and his wife were in the clear.

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"The rain was just in sheets. There was a big bang. It sounded like something was tearing off my roof. Limbs were rolling off the roof," he said.

The noise ended in less than a minute, and Headley went back out on his patio. Where he had been standing moments earlier a two-inch wide limb was now driven through the patio roof, he said.

Autauga County Chief Deputy Sheriff Joe Sedinger said seven others were hurt in the area, including a firefighter injured during rescue operations. He said the storm hopscotched for several miles, leaving some areas devastated and others untouched.

Seven people were hurt in the storm, including a firefighter injured during the emergency response, Sedinger said. He said the storm hopscotched for several miles, leaving some areas devastated and others untouched.

Mother, sons killed in their mobile home
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. A woman in her 30s and two teenage boys died when the storm demolished a double-wide mobile home in the Deer Park community.

The woman's husband survived and was in the hospital, he said. Winds had thrown items 100 yards from where the home had stood.

"It was not a pretty sight," Davidson said.

In Marengo County in west-central Alabama, four separate tornadoes hit over the span of about five to six hours, and a man was killed when his mobile home was tossed nearly a quarter of a mile, emergency management director Kevin McKinney said.

Another death was reported in Mississippi's Greene County, said Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. He did not have further details, and the Greene County Sheriff's Office did not immediately return a phone message Saturday.

A state of emergency had been declared for the whole state of Alabama, and even the first NASCAR race of a busy weekend at Talladega Superspeedway was postponed.

Tornadoes first started touching down Thursday in Oklahoma, where two people were killed before the system pushed into Arkansas and left another seven dead, including three children.

Back in Boone's Chapel, 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."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Storm chasers capture tornadoes on camera

  1. Closed captioning of: Storm chasers capture tornadoes on camera

    >>> good evening. we are in the middle still of an urgent violent and explosive weather situation that has thundered from the midwest right through the american south . 11 tornados were reported in four hours' time, starting in kansas, then oklahoma , then the numbers started to increase. there have now been dozens and before tonight is over we could see 50 of them in the united states . at least nine people are dead due to weather in just two of those states, and while it's early yet in 2011 , there have been nearly 250 tornados confirmed already this year. we have it all covered for you tonight. jim cantore standing by. we begin our coverage tonight with meteorologist eric fisher of the weather channel . he's in tushka , oklahoma . eric, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. here in southeastern oklahoma we saw some of those violent storms on thursday evening, one of those coming right through this community of tushka , oklahoma . it's a small town, only about 350 residents that live here, so when a tornado of this magnitude comes through, it affects everyone in the community, and those storms continue to rumble tonight.

    >> large tornado crossing the highway just in front of us.

    >> reporter: storm chaser footage shows one of nearly a dozen tornados that ripped through the southern plains overnight. this twister barrelled through tushka , oklahoma , killing two elderly sisters. high school students huddled in a storm shelter as it tore through the building overhead, picking up school buses and flipping them on their sides.

    >> it just looks like somebody came and stepped on it.

    >> reporter: all of the students survived, but seniors three weeks from graduation wonder where they'll finish the year.

    >> from a school standpoint a total loss . i don't see a possibility of having school in these buildings again.

    >> whoa, that's violent.

    >> reporter: at one point the system dropped three tornados side by side .

    >> we got two, three.

    >> reporter: in western arkansas , no tornados, but violent winds had tragic consequences. a father and his 18-month-old daughter were sleeping in their mobile home when winds blew a tree onto the trailer, killing both. the child's mother survived. in little rock , a tree crashed into a home killing an 8-year-old boy and his mother who had climbed into his bed to comfort him.

    >> there was a 2-year-old in the house that was fine that was in a back part. that child is okay.

    >> reporter: further east in arkansas, straight-line winds ripped a mobile home from its moorings and tossed it 70 feet, killing a 64-year-old woman and critically injuring her husband. swirling winds created this waterspout over clinton reservoir. storm chasers captured dramatic footage of a tornado near jackson. it peeled the roof off of this bank in clinton. police did manage to recover all the money inside. the tornado then crossed over interstate 20 .

    >> the interstate shut completely down. we have two cars that are flipped upside down.

    >> reporter: we're outside the only school here in tushka , oklahoma . it is a total loss . it stood for nearly 100 years. over my shoulder , one of the most bizarre scenes, a bookcase in what was once a classroom. the books still standing as if a storm didn't roll through. it's one of those bizarre signs you see in a spring storm. places like the deep south , missouri, illinois. on the back side, blizzard conditions and icy cold weather . brian.

    >> unbelievable, eric fisher starting us off in tushka , oklahoma . eric,

Interactive: Birth of a tornado


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