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Survivors tell of miracles

About 80 people were at the New Life Apostolic Church when the tornado hit.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | MOSSY GROVE, Tenn. | November 13, 2002

"We were right in the middle of service. Everything was cracking. Everything was shaking."

—Linda Perry

Denise Heidel, Linda Perry and Sonya Gunther and about 80 others were at the New Life Apostolic Church Sunday night when the tornado hit.

"We were right in the middle of service," Perry said. "We heard it coming. Everything was cracking. Everything was shaking."

The parishioners crawled under their pews to protect themselves.

"We just huddled under the pews and kept worshipping the Lord," she said.

The church buckled. The windows imploded. Miraculously, no one in the church was injured.

"Nobody was hurt," said Heidel.

"Not even a scratch," said Gunther.

"We feel like the Lord really protected us," said Perry.

Although the church stood up to winds averaging 175 mph, the whole frame of the building was warped. The building, which was raised just two years ago, will now have to be demolished.

In the parking lot out front, nearly every vehicle was destroyed.

The worshippers at this church were not the only lucky survivors.

Ralph Kivett, who lives about 200 yards away from the church, could barely believe he was still alive.

His entire house was destroyed around him, he said. He managed to survive by crouching between a refrigerator and a freezer, which fell against each other and formed a protective shield around him.

"It wasn't my time to go yet," Kivett said.

Just next door, at the home of Anita Ray, Kivett's daughter, nothing was left but a bare patch of earth.

While Ray was not home when the tornado struck, her son, Duron, and his fiancÚ, were. The trailer was thrown more than 100 feet through the air. It was impossible to tell Tuesday that the trash scattered all over the nearby field was once a home.

But, somehow, Duron Ray and his fiancÚ survived the destruction, although both had to be hospitalized. They were to be married today.

"This is a very God-based family," said Agnes Jackson, a family friend. "They've been saying blessings through it all."

Down the road another 50 yards another trailer home was totally destroyed-thrown into the air and smashed against a tree. A steel I-beam was wrapped around the tree trunk like a pretzel, and bits of insulation hung like cotton candy from the branches.

The owner of the trailer, Tammy Pennington, was not home when her trailer was wrecked.

But between Pennington's and Ray's trailers-or the empty spaces were they once stood-the home of Lola Vincent was almost untouched. Vincent's home incurred some roof damage and lost a few windows, but was otherwise unscathed.

Vincent's daugher, Glenna Clinton, pointed out that all Vincent's birdhouses as well as some potted plants made it through the storm just fine.

Even more inexplicable, however, was the American flag in Vincent's yard.

The flag was not even torn by the winds.

"It did not even get knocked over," Clinton said. "It just got a little bit of a slant to it now. It is so unbelievable."

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