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Tornado Aftermath: Survivors Horrified by Damage, Grateful for Lives

As they surveyed the damage around them, tornado survivors said they felt lucky to escape with their lives.

Looking on the Bright Side

Everything she’s salvaged from the home she bought just a year ago could fit in a few shopping bags, but Michelle McGee is looking on the bright side: at least she found “polka dot” and “cow.”

Those are the nicknames of her children’s loveys – her daughter’s pink dotted blanket and her son’s pillow pet – that they need to go to sleep every night.

They were the first things the kids asked for after they were dug out of the rubble and dropped off at their grandparents’ house. And they were the first things McGee pulled out when she began picking through the pile of splintered wood and shattered furnishings.

“It meant everything to me,” she told NBC News. “As long as I had cow and polka dot it was going to be okay.”

As the tornado swirled toward Vilonia, Ark., McGee, her boyfriend and the kids hunkered down in a hallway between three open doors.

“It was absolutely terrifying. You hear it sounds like a train – it really does,” McGee said.

The three doors creaked toward each other until they formed a kind of teepee over the family. “Like angels holding those doors,” McGee said.

When the storm passed, the home was in pieces but they were all alive.

“I knew as long as we were together we were going to be okay,” McGee said.

Searching for a Samaritan

He can’t remember her name, but Shawn Riddle wants to thank the woman who put him and two of his kids in the back of her truck and drove them to the hospital after their home was wiped off the map on Sunday.

“It was amazing,” the Vilonia man said of the help his family received after all of them were injured by flying debris.

Riddle broke a finger and was gashed and bruised elsewhere on his body. Two of his sons were also cut up. His youngest boy was seriously injured, suffering a broken rib and a bad cut on the back of his head. His wife busted her pelvis and had several bad lacerations.

“We were just thrown about… and when it was over all I could do was start hollering for them,” he told NBC News. “They were under debris.”

Once everyone was located, a woman came by in an SUV and took them to a staging area. An ambulance took Riddle’s wife and youngest to the hospital.

He and the other two boys didn’t have any way to get there until the good Samaritan with the truck, who was in the area to look for a friend, gave them a lift.

“I’m hoping to find her and thank her again,” Riddle said.

Little things, lost and found

Susanne Brunner, a reporter with NBC affiliate KARK, was looking for a story in Mayflower, Ark. Instead, she found a way to bring a smile to a tornado victim’s family.