- Associated Press - Saturday, April 16, 2011

BOONE’S CHAPEL, Ala. (AP) — 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.

In Alabama’s Washington County, about 50 miles north of Mobile, a mother and her two children were among those killed, said state emergency management agency director Art Faulkner. One person was reported dead in Mississippi’s Greene County.

Combined with earlier reported fatalities in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the confirmed death toll had risen to 17 by early Saturday — the nation’s deadliest storm of the season.

Henley Hollon said Saturday that his 65-year-old brother, Willard Hollon, lived across the street from him in the Boone’s Chapel community about 25 miles from Montgomery. Henley Hollon said Willard Hollon and Willard’s two adult children, Steve and Cheryl, were killed when the storms roared through.

Henley Hollon said he had been watching the weather forecast on television — and thought the worst was over when the winds started to pick up.

“It got up real fast. The lights went out,” he said. “We had to feel our way into the hall. It lasted less than a minute.”

He then went outside to check on the limbs down in his yard and walked across the road to check on his brother.

“When I shined the light out there I could see it was all gone,” Henley Hollon said. Two mobile homes had been ripped from their foundations, and all that remained Saturday morning were wooden steps and flowerbeds.

“The trailer was anchored down and the anchors are gone,” said Autauga County Chief Deputy Sheriff Joe Sedinger. “But the steps are still there and the blooms are still on the flowers.”

Willard lived in one of the homes with Steve, who had recently retired from the Air Force. Steve’s wife and two daughters also lived there — they had been remodeling a home nearby so the family could be close to Willard, Henley Hollon said.

Cheryl lived in the home next door. An American flag that had flown in front of her house was draped over a tree limb Saturday, about 100 feet from where here home had stood.

At Boone’s Chapel Baptist Church, near where the mobile homes had once been, the sanctuary’s walls and roof were gone. But hymnals were still on the pews. The adjoining Sunday school wing and gymnasium remained with little damage. Tammie Silas joined other church members in cleaning up debris and looking for any mementos that might be salvageable.

As she sorted through debris, she found two family photos that appeared to come from the Hollons’ homes. “This is all they’ve got left,” she said as she clutched the two photos in her hands.

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.

Another three deaths were reported early Saturday in Washington County in southern Alabama, said Yasamie Richardson, spokeswoman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.

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