Storm victims aim to bounce back

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Christopher Hahn stands outside his home, which was hit by a small tornado Saturday morning.

Saturday morning storms destroyed property in the northeastern corner of the county, but the affected residents consider themselves fortunate to be alive.

The home, camper, a greenhouse, and two vehicles of Christopher and Jocelyn Hahn, who live on Vada Road, were destroyed. Further east from the Hahns, Billy Maxwell lost a barn, two storage buildings, and some chicken, quail, pheasant and dog pens.

Hahn said he and his wife were having coffee and watching TV Saturday morning about 8:45 a.m. They saw the tornado warnings and the red cell coming out of Panama City, Fla. He stepped outside to look at the sky.

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Looking across the road to the west he saw a lighter colored funnel cloud and a sky full of debris flying across the road toward him. He ran back inside, grabbed his wife and hit the floor.

He recalls hearing the impact, and in just a few seconds it was all over. A nearby neighbor, Mike Harrell, sent his sons to help the Hahns climb out a window.

The structure in which the Hahns lived, half of which was his manufacturing and storage area, was destroyed, as was a nearby camper the self-employed Hahn used for his office. His wife’s 2008 Dodge Avenger was picked up and rolled. The camper was picked up and slammed into Hahn’s 2004 Dodge truck, knocking out the rear window, jamming a door and springing the hood of the truck.

Asked what he did first after the storm, Hahn said he called his insurance company and started taking photos with his cell phone. He found his laptop computer lying in the field about 50 feet from where the camper came apart, and was surprised to find it still worked.

Hahn, who grew up in western N.Y. moved south in 1995, living first in Dothan, Ala. He moved to Decatur County in 2007 to work for the Lynch Corporation and purchased 5-1/2 acres off Vada Road, intending to build a home there. Temporarily he built the structure that would accommodate his work and living area. He then moved on to Charleston, S.C., and Charlotte, N.C., to work. He came back to the Decatur County site about one year ago and has been working from his home as an independent contractor and mechanical designer.

Hahn is appreciative of his neighbors, who are helping him and his wife. The Harrells have loaned them a camping trailer to live in and Steve Brock has provided a dry storage area for the belongings they have been able to salvage.

At the Maxwell farm, the destruction is clearly visible and debris stretches across the road into a neighboring field.

Billy Maxwell said he was out on his tractor Saturday morning and hurrying to move a load of feed into a shed before it rained, as he didn’t want it to get wet. He knew it was going to storm soon and his first thought was to stop at the first storage building he came to, but then, something told him to keep on going. He is thankful he did. The first building was destroyed and he said if he had stopped there he probably would not be around today to talk about it.

Maxwell said he did not hear the storm, but his wife was watching out the window of the house and saw the buildings blowing away. She also saw him and called his cell phone to warn him. When he turned around he saw it was all gone. In addition to the buildings and pens, he lost a 9-month-old English Setter that he has yet to find. He doesn’t know if the dog is alive or dead, but believes it may have been frightened and ran away if it wasn’t blown away.

Maxwell, a self-employed electrical contractor and farmer, said this is the third time a tornado has hit his place in the years he has lived there.

On Monday, Maxwell was still amazed and feeling lucky that he did not stop at the first building, did not hear the storm destroy the buildings, and was amazed that neither he nor the feed got wet.

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