By Chris Kieffer
Five generations of the Lyle family huddled together on Monday afternoon as a tornado struck their land on County Road 1766 in the Auburn community of Lee County.
Thirteen of them were tucked into a crowded storm shelter. Two – Alice Lyle, 91, and Dorothy Lyle – were in a house uphill. All survived.
“It was crazy,” said Jacob Lyle, 25, the great-grandson of Alice Lyle. “It sounded like an airplane taking off. It went right over the top of us in the storm shelter.”
When he emerged, the sky was green and view was sickening. His father’s house had half of its roof torn up and a shed shifted six inches on its foundation. His grandmother’s house had no roof or walls, with only a closet surviving. And his great-grandmother’s house – where she and his great-aunt were huddled – had lost its roof and many of its windows.
“I saw the houses, and I didn’t think there was any way she would be alive,” he said on Tuesday. “We ran over here. The roof was off, the windows were out, and she was laying on the floor in the hallway. It was a miracle by the grace of God.”
The Auburn community suffered extensive home damage, especially north of Auburn Baptist Church. Trees littered the landscape, as did downed power lines. A Ford F-150 pickup truck at Dorothy Lyle’s home was overturned and dumped into a field about 20 yards in front of the driveway.
Slightly to the southwest, damage also was heavy in the neighborhoods along County Road 811 – or old Saltillo Road – just north of where Veterans Boulevard meets Highway 78. Sheets of tin wrapped around limbs and cars had crushed windows. Many houses had lost their roofs and some were missing entire walls.
That’s where Adrian Bradley, 35, was tucked in a bathroom with his 14-year-old son, Jacob, and grandmother, Jennie Cox, 76. There they sat as the storm completely tore off their roof and busted windows.
“You could hear the wind and the trees,” Adrian Bradley said. “It picked up the roof, and the windows cracked out. Then the whole house started shaking and the ceiling started to come down. My ears popped and a board hit me, so I jumped in the tub.
“A few minutes later it started pouring rain on us, and I was breathing debris and spitting it out.”
As Bradley, family and friends cleaned out the house on Tuesday, the pot roast Jennie Cox had been cooking still sat on the green countertop of an island in the kitchen. The clock on the oven was frozen at 2:48.
Next door, Robin and Howard Tindall were trying to salvage items from their home. The twister had torn up the middle of their house, but also left much intact, such as a bed they had that was once owned by Robin’s grandmother.
When Robin had left for work that morning, she had been in a hurry and had left her wedding band, anniversary band and engagement ring on a dresser. When she returned to the house after it had been destroyed, all three rings still sat where she left them.
“Maybe God was telling us we are supposed to be together,” she said.
Tuesday was a day for people to clear trees, put tarps on busted roofs and windows and try to save personal items. It also was a time to remember a funnel cloud that quickly changed so much and to be thankful for the lives it spared.
“The main thing is everyone’s lives,” said Barry Lyle. “They sell this stuff every day. You can’t go buy another life.”