World & Nation

In Rainsville, tragedy and amazing tales of survival

Away from the spotlight of a presidential visit and the glare of national publicity, this rural town of 5,000 in northeast Alabama nursed its tragedy.

The walls of the Rainsville Civic Center were blown out. Across the street, the Huddle House, a popular eatery, and the local credit union, were wiped out.

Rainsville is part of DeKalb County, which is reporting 32 deaths from the tornadoes that have turned Alabama in the worst-hit state by the deadliest storms in decades. The county ranks right behind Tuscaloosa, where there are 38 confirmed deaths of the state’s 210 reported deaths so far. President Obama visited Tuscaloosa on Friday.

Wes Mahon, 46, climbed a ladder to the remains of his roof, half of which is gone. On one side of his house on Lingerfelt Road, once stood a three-story home that had turned into a pile of oversized splinters. The residents had survived by hiding under mattresses.


On the other side, all that remained of a two-story house was the garage and part of a bathroom where that home’s family hid. Two elderly woman died on the street.

All that is left of his petroleum service shop that was located behind Mahon’s home is the concrete slab floor.

“It feels terrible,” Mahon said. “It feels like you’ve got to start all over again.”

Mahon wasn’t home when the tornado came through but his wife was. Sonya Mahon, 39, and seven other people -- including four strangers who were passing by -- ran into a closet. The four strangers were teenagers driving by in a red jeep when they sought sanctuary.


Sonya Mahon, and her 9-month-old granddaughter, her son and five other people hunkered down in the bedroom closet. She said that she clutched her granddaughter so tightly, “It’s a wonder I didn’t squeeze her to death.”

As they were closing the closet door, she said the last view she got was of the roof coming off the house.

The house shook, and she said she felt her ears were going to explode.

When they emerged from the closet, the floor was shining from the broken glass.

They could hear screaming and cries of “help me, help me” from throughout the neighborhood.

Her son broke his kneecap trying to help a neighbor out of the rubble.

On Friday, the neighborhood still lacked electricity or running water. Cows ran free.

Get our Today's Headlines newsletter