The speed and sweep of the devastation was shocking: 41 people dead and vast swaths of land laid to waste after 45 twisters swept seven states during the first three days of March. This ominously early start to 2012's storm season had one note of redemption: an outpouring of kindness as neighbors and strangers came together to help victims recover from overwhelming loss.
A MOTHER'S SACRIFICE
Stephanie Decker, 37, Henryville, Ind. It was really dark, really scary. The house was shaking. I held on to [son Dominic, 8, and daughter Reese, 5] as tight as I could. I just laid on top of them. Pillars were falling, bricks were falling, a steel beam was on my leg. My body was in shock. The kids kept asking, "Mommy, are you going to die?" I kept saying, "No, I'm going to be here. We're going to be fine." I was determined to live. But I looked at my legs, and I knew the left one was gone.
Dominic ran to neighbors for help; rescuers pulled Decker from the debris. She had to have both legs amputated.
I'm sad I lost my legs. I worked out five days a week. But I'm a fighter. The most important thing in the world to me is my kids. And they came out of it without a scratch.
A BRUSH WITH DEATH
Jason Miller, 31, New Pekin, Ind.
I used to love storms. Never did I realize I'd be right in the center of one. I opened the door to take a look at the tornado, and I was sucked up into it. I was at least 50 feet up in the air, and I must have blacked out. When I came to, I was on top of a pile of lumber. I should be dead. There must have been angels up there with me.
Grateful to be alive, Miller was heartbroken he was unable to save his neighbors the Babcock family (see opposite page).
Paulette Loveday, 56, Harvest, Ala.
Loveday, who lost her home in a tornado last spring, gathered people in a shelter for the second time in a year. If that door had opened, we'd have been sucked out. How do you get all those people into a tiny room? You pack them in, honey. Save a life.
Maj. Chuck Adams, 57, Clark County, Ind., Sheriff's Office
Hundreds of people showed up. This is how we come together around here. We had to turn volunteers away. It was a miracle. It brought out the best in everybody.
- Reported by Pam Grout/Indiana,
- J. Todd Foster/Alabama.