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Apison tornado survivor remembers the storm 5 years later

"We were lifted up a little and as we sank I looked up and the first floor of the house was peeling back," said Colby.

The tornadoes of April 2011 took dozens of lives in our area, but among the wreckage, there were powerful stories of survival.

For Apison resident and Ooltewah High teacher Joy Colby, the tornado was a defining moment in her life.

"Our life now is before the storm or after the storm," said Colby.

She says she was not mentally prepared for the tornado that touched down on her house five years ago.

"There was just this 'poof' and all the walls were gone," Colby remembers.

Taking cover in a closet with her husband, her son, and her mom, she watched the tornado rip her home apart.

"We were lifted up a little and as we sank I looked up and the first floor of the house was peeling back," said Colby.

The entire house was gone within seconds. The foundation was all that was left.

"The gun safe that we thought was bolted to the floor blew over on top of us and crushed us, but it's what kept us alive," said Colby.

Her neighbors became first responders.

Colby still has a voice message on her cell phone that she received from her neighbor Pablo Alvarez just after the storm hit.

"He came and held me until the medical people came," said Colby.

Joy had a collapsed lung, 9 broken bones, and fractured vertebrae, the most severe injuries in her family.

"I went into that emergency room nurse feeling where you just handle everything and you deal with everything that's going on around you and you don't really think about it until afterwards," said another neighbor Anita Kapperman.

Colby urges everyone to make sure they are prepared in the case of a disaster.

"When the winds blow, know where to go," said Colby. "You don't have to panic. It's all about being aware."

Something good did come out of the devastation.

Colby's husband Bob sustained some minor injuries, but he was taken to the hospital where doctors uncovered a tumor. It turned out to be bladder cancer, but it was caught so early that it only reached stage zero.




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