Thursday, February 22, 2018

Wind pulls three kids out of house

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Latonya Stevens heard thunder and lightning in the distance Friday night, she knew the drill.

Every time a storm drew near, her children would run to her room seeking comfort.

So Stevens turned on a hall light for the young kids as high winds began buffeting the house.

"The house was shaking, and then we heard the noise. And all of the sudden you heard the house go whap, whap, whap, whap. Just like that. Then the walls were gone,'' said Stevens' mother, Patricia, who had been downstairs watching TV.

As the wind ripped the house apart, Latonya Stevens lost consciousness.

When she woke, she was holding one child. The other three were gone, and Stevens feared the worst: that a twister had carried them away.

"I was screaming for them," Stevens said Monday. "I was panicking. For a moment, I didn't know where they were."

After the storm passed, the kids were found outside on the ground, one of them 100 feet away along a major highway.

They had only cuts and bruises — and a story to tell for the rest of their lives.

"It's a miracle they survived," said their grandfather, Clarence Gray Jr. "God was looking out for them."

By Monday, the children were playing in their grandparents' house as if nothing had happened.

They picked up family photos scattered on a coffee table. "This was our house," Jamal said, pointing to a picture.

The children — 3-year-old Amber, 4-year-old Ayanna and 7-year-old Jamal — said they don't recall anything.

When storms moved into the Charlotte area late Friday, the four children were upstairs in their bedrooms. Their grandmother was watching TV on a couch. Their father, Tyrone Stevens, was out with friends who were in town for a basketball tournament.

The noise awoke the children, who initially went to their mother's room where they watched a Disney movie. When the storm died down, they returned to their beds.

But a half-hour later, Stevens heard a new storm approaching and got up to take care of the children. As she turned on the hall light, the house began to shake, and she lost consciousness.

Stevens awoke in the dark holding one 3-year-old twin, Ashley. The roof was gone. It was then that she realized her house had been struck by a tornado.

She hurried downstairs in the dark, screaming, "Where's my babies," and found her mother who also was frantic.

"I didn't know where the children were," Patricia Stevens said.

Stevens handed Ashley to the girl's grandmother while she started searching outside for her children. Neighbors began searching, too.

Amber was found in the family yard under some debris. Ayanna landed in a neighbor's yard. Jamal had been tossed more than 100 feet.

The children were rushed to the hospital. Tyrone Stevens, who was contacted by family, headed to the hospital, too.

The Stevens family said they would love to rebuild in the same neighborhood.

"My neighbors were there for me, and those are the kind of people I want to be around," Latonya Stevens said. "It's a big family."

But first the family must confront the trauma of the storm.

"Every time I close my eyes, I still see it," she said. "I haven't had time to deal with it. I sleep on and off. I'm more worried about the kids and how they're feeling."

INDIANA BABY BURIED: A 15-month-old Indiana girl who clung to life for two days after being scooped up by a tornado that killed her parents and two siblings was buried Monday in a snow-covered cemetery.

An American flag hung at half-staff as relatives of Angel Babcock gathered for the private burial. Angel, her mother and her 2-month-old sister were buried in one casket. Her father and 2-year-old brother were in another.

The family was buried in the pauper section at Crown Hill Cemetery in Salem, Ind., police Maj. Scott Ratts said.

Angel's death was one of 40 from the tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and South.

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