The deadly Canton tornado was on the ground for about 51 miles, hitting Fruitvale and Emory Saturday.
Dozens of homes in the small community of Emory were badly damaged or destroyed, including a church where dozens of people were eating when the tornado hit. Edward Dougherty took his wife into their hallway as soon as he heard the winds howling on Saturday evening.
“When I heard the roar, I knew without anyone telling me what it was,” he said.
With seconds to spare, they braced as a powerful tornado came straight for their house just outside of Emory city limits.
“Crying and scared, both of us were,” said Dougherty. “Everything’s popping and breaking and snapping and you know it’s around you. You feel the rain start coming in on you. You know it’s gone,” he said.
The roof of his home is gone. The winds were powerful enough to pull a 400 pound furnace right out of its place. His home of ten years was destroyed.
The tornado’s path then included Bear Creek subdivision along U.S. 69.
The Rains County Sheriff’s Office says 25 homes were destroyed or badly damaged.
State and local police and sheriff’s deputies are actively standing watch and have closed traffic to non-residents.
Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church was hit next. There were 45 people inside when the tornado tore through.
“We were sitting there having a dinner for our graduating seniors,” said church member Sherry Badalich. “And we got a call telling us to move into the hallway.”
Monica Hughes and her husband ran to the doors.
“About 30 seconds after we closed the doors, it hit,” she said. “My husband and I were by the doors, by the sanctuary and they were being pulled open and we were hanging onto them literally for dear life.”
The huddled congregation prayed and watched as the walls were peeled off with ease. Three of the building’s walls were gone by the time the tornado moved away. Badalich says everyone sang and walked out of the building.
“Praise God because we walked out,” said a tearful Hughes.
While their sanctuary was destroyed, their faith is not.
“I don’t think anybody in that hallway felt fear,” said Badalich. “We had been praying and I personally felt safe.”
“We’re calling it the Passover,” said Hughes. “Because it hit the front, it passed over the top and went down the back and we feel we had Jesus leaning over and telling us: It’s okay. I’ve got ya.”
The sheriff’s office told NBC 5 that 417 people used the city’s tornado shelter on Saturday.
Emergency management says they are grateful to have received an outpouring of volunteers wanting to lend a helping hand, but they no longer need any extra help.