Commentary

Rock Hill’s tornado victims know what Midwesterners are going through

November 19, 2013 

Nobody needs to tell Rock Hill’s Albert “Jabo” Ferrell what the survivors of Sunday’s Midwest tornadoes are going through as they try to piece their lives back together.

No one has to tell him what it is like when the house around you is destroyed as a tornado demolishes everything.

Ferrell and his wife, Judy, survived a tornado that destroyed their home about 10 miles south of Rock Hill on Nov. 16, 2011. Sunday’s storms in Illinois killed six people and flattened hundreds of homes – almost two years to the day that the tornado in York County left three dead.

“I see what happened out there, and I feel terrible for those people,” Ferrell said. “There’s nothing they can do but try and start over again and thank God. We had to do it ourselves. Lot of people did.”

The 2011 tornado damaged or destroyed more than 20 homes along S.C. 324, Skyline Drive and Williamson Road. But buildings can be replaced.

Steve Courtney, an electrician, died at his Williamson Road house after he pushed his daughter and grandchild to safety.

Barbara and Ken Hafner, who lived in a mobile home across the street from the Ferrells, were killed when the tornado lifted the entire building and tossed it hundreds of feet away.

In the house next to the Hafners’, Janet Neely, home alone, was trapped inside the ruins of her home. Her son-in-law, Kevin Sinclair, rushed to the devastation from next door, then was joined by volunteers from the Oakdale Volunteer Fire Department and the Rock Hill Rescue Squad.

Those volunteers saved Janet Neely, then found several other people whose homes had been destroyed or heavily damaged.

“That tornado is the worst single event that we have had to respond to,” said Joe Shackleford, chief of the rescue squad and the man who first reached Janet Neely. “You look at Illinois, and they had hundreds of buildings gone because the tornado stayed on the ground. The tornado that we had here bounced. It hit and then went up and came down again.

“Hard to imagine, but we were lucky. Imagine what would have happened if the tornado that came through here just stayed on the ground. It could have been worse.”

It was those volunteers from area fire departments, the rescue squad and neighbors who helped pull the Ferrells from their home at the same time that other volunteers were helping Neely across the street.

“I will never forget those people,” Ferrell said of those who helped him right after the tornado – and for days afterward.

All through the night of the storm, and through the following week, volunteers worked the damage scenes. Donations poured in from strangers.

“We have had worse storms in dollar damage, but we lost three people in the tornado, so that makes the loss to this community the worst we have had,” said Cotton Howell, York County’s emergency management director, who grew up in the area where the tornado hit. “And the volunteers here worked that tornado right from the beginning.

“We are so fortunate in York County. As volunteerism declines around the country, we still have dedicated people willing to help their neighbors in need.”

The assistance from so many whose only reward was helping those in need is one reason people such as Ferrell contribute to the local volunteers and to the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross and other organizations that assist storm victims like those in Illinois.

“Nobody wants to remember a night like that; you try to forget it,” Ferrell said. “But you don’t forget what people did for you. You try to help somebody else after they helped you.”

Dick Ferrell, one of Albert Ferrell’s children, said he and his wife have given to their church, Elevation Church, which is sending aid to people in Illinois.

There is no memorial out at the spots where the York County tornado hit and damaged and destroyed and killed. The memorial is the work that the Bethesda, Lesslie and Oakdale volunteers and the Rock Hill Rescue Squad did.

The work that still goes on by all those volunteers when an emergency hits.

Next week Ferrell will celebrate Thanksgiving weekend by being thankful for those volunteers and donating to help those in Illinois. The volunteers of the Rock Hill Rescue Squad will be lined up in the median of Dave Lyle Boulevard near the Rock Hill Galleria and Manchester Village shopping centers during the busiest shopping days of the year.

They will carry boots and buckets.

They will ask for money to saves lives that belong to real people with names such as Albert Ferrell and Janet Neely and more.

“Without donations, we can’t help people,” Shackleford said.

Andrew Dys •  adys@heraldonline.com •  803-329-4065

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