Huntsville Tornado, Nov. 15, 1989 - Southern Region Disaster Survey

Appendix E

Individual Accounts Presented here are individual accounts from people in or near the path of the tornado.


Ms. Elizabeth Bath, resident near Jones Valley School

Ms. Bath lives in a Jones Valley residential subdivision across the street (east) of the Jones Valley School. Ms. Bath was at home when the tornado moved from the Jones Valley School through her subdivision. Her house was on the northern edge of the tornado path, receiving only minor damage.

She had been at home most of the day and was not aware that severe weather was expected. She had not listened to radio or television broadcasts during the day. Ms. Bath had a very keen sense of humor and was strongly religious.

Just prior to the tornado occurrence, her elderly pet poodle had been somewhat frantic and behaving in a strange fashion. Due to the age of the dog, Ms. Bath was concerned for the dog's well being, so when it displayed unusual behavior she stopped what she was doing and sat down in the den with the dog to pray. The den was on the opposite side of the house from the tornado, but contained a large sliding glass doorway which remained intact. She noted that she took no particular notice of noise or other sounds with her attention focused on her dog.

Her house was pelted with a number of flying missiles including small pieces of pavement from the Jones Valley School. Pieces of asphalt the size of a waded-up sheet of paper were found in her yard and in the upstairs bathroom. One large piece of marble, believed to have come from the school, went through the roof into the first floor kitchen. The piece of marble weighed easily 40 pounds. A portion of a brick from the school or another house came through the outside wall in a upstairs bedroom causing a large gash in the sheetrock to another wall as it ricocheted before landing on the floor.

Mr. & Mrs. Earl Feese, resident of Jones Valley Subdivision

Mr. and Mrs. Feese were at home when the tornado struck destroying their two story home. The first floor was left intact while the entire roof was removed from the second floor. They were both aware of the existence of bad weather and the Tornado Watch, however, they didn't expect the weather to affect them like it did.

Prior to the tornado strike, they had been watching Mr. Bob Baron on television. They were aware of the warning for the adjacent county, but they took no particular action. Mrs. Feese went upstairs shortly before the tornado struck to disconnect the power to a computer in one of the upstairs rooms. Their first notion that something was happening was the roaring sound of the wind and the sound of the house coming apart.

After disconnecting the computer upstairs, Mrs. Feese had come down stairs, and she and her husband were standing at the T-point of two downstairs hallways. As the house began to come apart, Mrs. Feese was pulled along one hallway toward the front of the house while Mr. Feese was pulled eastward toward the east end of the house. Mr. Feese struggled against the wind and finally managed to grab hold of a door facing. The door, however, slammed shut on his hands, trapping him there. He was not able to get free until after the tornado was over and his wife came to assist him.

Outside, an 8,000 pound motor home parked on the east side of the house was flipped completely over.

As a side note, Mrs. Feese had undergone extensive heart surgery only one month before the tornado. In fact, when the Survey Team spoke with her, she had just come from a visit to the doctor's office where she had undergone a stress test. She said that if she survived the stress of going through the tornado, she could stand the stress test at the doctor's office.

Steve Goodman, Meteorologist at NASA

Mr. Goodman is a meteorologist working for NASA at a building on the Redstone Arsenal.

On the afternoon of the 15th, Mr. Goodman and several co-workers observed the thunderstorm that produced the tornado. Early in the day, he and others at NASA had followed the developing weather with their lightning display and satellite imagery. As the thunderstorm approached the south side of Huntsville and the Redstone Arsenal, Mr. Goodman and several co-workers went outside to observe the weather firsthand.

Just south of his position, Mr. Goodman and the others observed a rain-free base and a wall cloud around 4:20 pm. There were indications in the clouds that the wall cloud was rotating. The sky went green and the wind went calm at their location. As the wall cloud passed south and east of them, Mr. Goodman described the wall cloud as broadening and lowering toward the ground, and the sky went pitch black. Scud clouds moved quickly, "screamed" using Mr. Goodman's words, in from the south to north about a tenth of a mile from them and north to south just south of them, thus defining rotation estimated at one quarter mile in width.

Mrs. Marilyn Dawson, Principal of Jones Valley Elementary School

Mrs. Dawson listened to NOAA Weather Radio frequently throughout the day. The radio was in the "alert mode" when the Tornado Watch was issued, and her radio was activated. She knew it was going to be a bad day. Mrs. Dawson decided to leave the school around 4:15 pm. She told Penny Cato, Lead Teacher for the Extended Daycare Program, about the Tornado Watch and suggested Penny take the school children downstairs to ride out the bad weather. She gave Penny her NWR for weather updates.

Mrs. Dawson returned to the school within 10 minutes of the time the tornado struck and immediately helped remove the children from the rubble. She set up a command post and implemented a school disaster plan developed earlier in the year. Through her heroic efforts, all the children were accounted for.

She went into considerable detail with regard to post-disaster response. She credited an emergency management workshop she attended during the previous spring in Birmingham with providing her proper training which proved invaluable during this episode.

Penny Cato, Uad Teacher, Extended Daycare Program, Jones Valley Elementary School

Ms. Cato and five other teachers at Jones Valley Elementary School are in charge of children in the Extended Daycare Program. One of the teachers had left the school for the day but the others led by Penny, took 37 children grades kindergarten through 5th grade, to the lowest floor of the school under a stairwell for added protection. She went outside under a walkway around 4:20 pm and observed extremely heavy rain, gusty winds, and frequent lightning. She didn't play the NWR in the presence of the children for fear of scaring them. Penny heard the Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Madison County and sought to reassure the children. Some of them were "hamming it up" with affected expressions of fear saying, "There is going to be a tornado", when the lights flickered at 4:33 pm.

At 4:36 pm glass and cement began to fly and fall around the children as the tornado struck the school. Penny screamed for the children to "get down and cover your heads". About the same time seven painters who were in the school ran to the children and shielded them with their bodies undoubtedly protecting them from more serious and possibly fatal injury. The school alarm went off as the tornado struck and the clocks stopped at 4:38 pm.

Afterward, the wind was calm but heavy rain continued for awhile. Several children described the roar of the tornado as the sound of several freight trains.

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