Until 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sean Walker lived in a 70- by 14-foot mobile home with his wife, their infant son and her parents. At that minute, a powerful tornado struck without warning and took his family on a short and terrifying flight.
It lifted their home and carried it 50 yards across an open field, tossing Walker through the open roof. The mobile home landed upside down. Miraculously, nobody was seriously hurt, not even the family dog.
"We were in what's left of the trailer out there," Walker said afterward, pointing to a heap of rubble in the field.
He was holding his son's baby walker, which he had found several hundred feet away. Nearby, in a field soaked by a ruptured water line, lay the tiny outfit 6-month-old Jason had worn home from the hospital after his birth. On and around the mobile home, the possessions of a normal life were scattered haphazardly. Spice jars and canisters, a package of chicken breasts, compact discs, teddy bears, a family piano lying on its side.
"We were sitting in the living room," he said. "All of a sudden I felt the trailer shake, once." He asked his wife, Jessica, "You feel that?" She had.
"I grabbed her and my son and took them into the bathroom," he said. He ran to get a mattress to cover them. But "the roof came off, and I went out the top, holding onto the mattress."
The tornado carried him flying across the field and he landed face down, still holding the mattress. One wall of the home landed on his back. Another landed on his wife, who was still clutching the baby. "I grabbed the wall and lifted it off them. I was in a rage, I guess," he said. He pulled first Jason and then Jessica from the rubble, alive and except for scratches, unhurt.
Walker's father-in-law, Byron "Tom" Price, a night delivery man for the Times, was sleeping when the tornado hit. It carried him and his water bed about 25 feet, then apparently dropped the bed, upside down, through the floor of the flying mobile home.
Price found himself lying in the field. He looked up, saw his son-in-law's car and realized that the family was home. He stood up, looking around without his glasses, fearing they were dead.
Then he heard a voice.
"I said, "Sean!' He yelled, "Tom!' I said, "The baby!' He said, "I got the baby!' We went over in the field and we hugged each other."
While they were hugging, they saw a nose emerge from the rubble, then a head. Their dachshund, Heidi, also walked out alive.
Though their uninsured home was gone, Price said he felt lucky, and happy. "I don't know how to explain this. . . . It's unbelievable. . . . We're alive!" he exclaimed.
Walker, who was helping collect their belongings from the field, looked up and compared this tornado to Hurricane Andrew. "We stopped in Homestead last week and thought those people went through hell," he said.
He said he now understands how they feel.