- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - Amy Feemster has always loved Christmas. She loves a tree and her favorite decorations are ornaments her children have made through the years.

And she loves all the pretty presents, neatly wrapped underneath.

But Christmas will be much different this year. She is just happy to be able to have a tree.

The ornaments - stored in the attic - are gone, blown away when the roof was ripped off her family’s home by a tornado April 28. She and her husband, David, and their children, Whitney, 13, and Max, 11, were huddled in the hall.

The house was blown about 200 feet off the foundation, and the Feemsters lost all their furniture and many of their clothes and household items.

Everything in the attic was blown away and never found, and that’s where just about everything sentimental to her was stored.

The kids’ homemade ornaments and the dated ornaments she had bought every year since she and David married in 1997 were lost, along with most of their pictures.

Even though it’s sad to lose those kinds of things, it isn’t something Amy dwells on.

Instead, she and her family have focused on the positive changes in their lives over the last seven or so months.

“We told the kids from day one that we walked out of there and we shouldn’t have,” she said Friday as the family was moving into a new house, built almost on the same spot as the house that was destroyed on Liberty Hill Church Road.

The landscape in the area has changed, and slowly but surely new houses are going up and neighbors are getting more used to the new normal.

“The trees are gone and you can see two or three roads nearby that you couldn’t see before,” Amy said.

Even without the daily reminder, with remaining trees wrapped in tin, the events of that night are something the Feemsters will never forget.

Amy said she usually would stay up when severe weather was threatening, but that night the television stations had gone back to regular programming and she and David went to bed.

She had left the television on with the volume turned down. She was almost asleep when she got a text from her mother in Rainbow City, asking if she was awake.

Before she could reply, she received another text from her mother.

“It said, ‘A tornado is headed your way,’” she said. She noticed that the TV’s satellite signal was out and got up.

Amy decided to call her mother and her cellphone was in her hand when she first heard the sounds. “It sounded like rocks were hitting the side of the house,” she said.

She woke David, who ran to Max’s room and got him; she got Whitney. By the time they got to the hall, they knew the tornado was hitting.

“David just yelled to get down,” she said. So they all huddled in the floor of the hall. That’s when the roof blew off.

“The Sheetrock started caving in,” Amy said. “You could hear trees breaking apart, smell the pine. There were just so many different sounds.”

It was pouring rain and they were getting soaked.

Amy said they thought the bricks on the foundation caved in and they thought the house dropped to the ground. They had no idea it had been moved.

It was all over in 30 or 40 seconds, she said, even though it felt like much longer.

She had not called her mother, but still had the phone in her hand. It was the only light they had.

They found David’s keys, wallet and cellphone on the dining table where he had left them.

They could smell propane and were afraid the house was about to explode, so David started getting his family out. He tried to open the door to the garage, but couldn’t. When he finally got out, he told Amy the garage and their vehicles were gone.

They went out the front door and instead of stepping onto the porch, they stepped on grass. It was pitch black and they couldn’t see anything.

About that time, lightning lit up the sky and they could see the garage and the cars where they should be.

That’s when they realized the house had been moved. It was still raining.

Even though all three vehicles were totaled, David was able to get his truck - a tree through it and the side caved in - and he headed up the driveway to take his family to safety at nearby Bethlehem Baptist Church.

They met their neighbors from across the street, whose house also was destroyed. The neighbors were coming to check on the Feemsters because when they looked over from their property, all they could see was that the house was gone.

Even though they didn’t feel the house moving through the air, the Feemsters believe it set down when they thought the foundation had collapsed.

“We say that 10,000 angels were watching over us and picked it up and set it back down,” Amy said.

She called her mother to let her know they were not hurt, but the tornado had hit their house. They spent the night at the home of their pastor, Wayne White.

At daylight, they got their first real look at what was left, and began salvaging what they could.

By June, they had moved a mobile home on their property and began building a new house in July.

Amy said they are thankful to be moving in their new house, and they have a different perspective.

“I tell the kids, ‘We’ve still got each other,’” she said. “All this other stuff is just stuff.”

Amy said on the morning before the tornado hit, she read the daily Bible verse that she gets via email.

It was from Proverbs. “It was, ‘For those that put their trust in God will be safe,’” she said. “He was telling us we were going to be OK, even before we knew something was going to happen.”

Their home took a direct hit from the EF3 tornado that whose winds were close to EF4 strength. Dozens of homes in their community were destroyed or heavily damaged, but no lives were lost.

For this Christmas season, Amy knows her most important presents will not come from under the tree, but will be together around the tree.

___

Information from: The Gadsden Times, https://www.gadsdentimes.com

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