Friday, May 2, 2014
William Walker, director of the Georgetown County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, was in Tupelo Monday, with his wife, Betty and adult son, Willis, to hear their nephew preach his first sermon at a church.
Their plan was to leave the Comfort Inn Suite in which they had been staying on Tuesday but those plans changed when the tornado tore through the city around 2 p.m.
He said his family was in their fourth floor room when a staff member knocked on the door advising them of the tornado warning that had been issued. They were told to get to the ground floor immediately, Walker said.
“Before we finished doing what we needed to do, the lights went out. We made it to the hallway and were near the staircase when the building started shaking and the glass was exploding out of the windows,” he recalled during a telephone interview Tuesday evening.
As the tornado bore down on the hotel, a large portion of the roof was ripped away, just feet above the heads of the family. They were the only ones on the top floor while this was taking place.
“We were blown back at least 20 feet and ended up on the floor,” Walker recalled. “It was almost like it was snowing because of all the insulation being blown everywhere.”
He said he and his family crawled to a corner next to a vending machine as wind and rain were making it hard to see.
“This was the one part of the whole building the roof was not ripped off,” he said.
Walker said he estimates the worst of the weather lasted about five minutes.
Once the winds subsided, Walker and his family made their way downstairs.
He said the staff and other guests “were astonished” the three made it through since they were upstairs.
Walker, his wife and their son spent Monday night at an arena being used as a Red Cross shelter.
On Tuesday, they were allowed to retrieve their clothing and other belongings that, somehow, were not blown away.
The family’s car was not as fortunate.
“Our vehicle was totaled,” Walker said, adding they planned to rent a car Thursday for the drive home.
The Comfort Inn – like thousands of other homes and buildings – was condemned.
“God was with us,” Walker said.