Hamilton County family shares story of tornado survival - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Hamilton County family shares story of tornado survival

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Photo of Colby Family home taken April 28, 2011 Photo of Colby Family home taken April 28, 2011
Photo of Colby Family home taken April 28, 2011 Photo of Colby Family home taken April 28, 2011
Photo of Colby Family home before April 27, 2011 tornadoes Photo of Colby Family home before April 27, 2011 tornadoes
Colby Family home before April 27, 2011 tornadoes Colby Family home before April 27, 2011 tornadoes
New Colby Family home New Colby Family home
HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

Severe weather season is almost here and knowing where to go and what to do when danger strikes could mean the difference between life and death.

Bob Colby and his family had a severe weather plan in place, but never imagined they would have to use it to survive a deadly tornado.

“We never really thought about it, because I grew up and I was told, ‘We don’t have tornadoes here because the mountains will protect us and keep them out,’” said Colby.

The night of April 27, 2011, the Colbys learned firsthand that simply isn’t true.

“I had been paying attention all day long and we’d taken cover here at the office a couple of times in the morning. And I knew things were bad. And my wife, who is a school teacher, had gone by to pick up her mom to take her out to our house where she’d be safe.”

Colby couldn’t have predicted what was coming, but he started to prepare -- just in case.

“I had gone and cleaned out a bedroom closet underneath the steps going up to the second floor of our house. I wanted to be ready. Because we had already designated that as our safe space if we ever had to take cover,” said Colby.

When the radar detected a tornado headed their way, Colby sprang into action.

“When [Paul Barys] said, ‘Take cover,’ I said, ‘Let’s go now.’”

Some family members paused to look out a window and saw the giant cloud headed straight for their Apison home. They all gathered inside the closet just in time.

“As soon as I got that door closed, we heard all the windows popping, and the fire alarm went off, and then everything, you could just hear the house coming apart. It was like somebody had taken the house and just thrown it into one of those giant rotary things that chews up timber and trees and things,” Colby recalled.

It took just seconds for the massive tornado to reduce the Colby’s two-story house to rubble.

“It seemed like it was going forever. But I think about 22 seconds it lasted because it was a huge tornado.”

Colby’s first concern was the well being of his family.

“I asked everybody if they were okay. I just wanted to hear voices, because I thought we were all dead. And everybody spoke and that was a good thing."

A heavy gun safe fell on top of the family and injured Colby’s wife, but kept them all from being blown away.

“Because we had a plan and we had a place and we were prepared, we didn’t panic, we acted on the plan, we’re all here today,” said Colby.

Colby says the experience taught him the importance of knowing where to go and what to do if danger strikes, but he also learned something else.

“We had electricity when it hit and if we hadn’t, we’d have been dead. Because we would not have known. The first thing I did is went out and bought some weather radios after that.  And we make sure that those are working and the batteries are in them."

Colby said he and his family didn’t invest a lot of time in formulating an elaborate strategy. They simply identified the safest place to seek shelter in their home and discussed it as a family over the years.

 “You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on it, but you should communicate it with your family and folks who are frequently in your house, where you need to go in case of a severe storm,” Colby said. “And when they say that there is a tornado headed your way, they know now with modern technology that there’s a tornado headed your way and you need to take heed.”

When the Colbys rebuilt their home, they added a tornado safe room that exceeds FEMA standards. They also keep weather apps loaded on their phones so they can be aware of any weather watches or warnings no matter where they are.

Coming up on Monday on Eyewitness News at 6:00, we’ll show you how to find the safest place to go when severe weather hits, no matter where you are.

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