NEWNAN, Ga. (AP) — After a harrowing tornado tore through Newnan late last month, local firefighter Jason Scott found himself in the nightmare scenario of driving to his own destroyed home.
Scott had already spoken with his wife, Becca, on the phone, so he knew that she and their 2-year-old daughter, Harley, were safe. Still, he described “an incredible feeling of relief” when he saw his wife, daughter and dog emerge from the darkness, picking their way down the family’s long driveway strewn with fallen trees.
“She just handed the baby to me, and the baby just laid her head on my shoulder like it was a normal night,” Scott said. “Like she was just ready to go back to bed or something.”
Knowing his family was safe, Scott felt the pull to return to his duties as a first responder. He was aware that many other families were still in the middle of their own terrifying ordeals like the one his wife and daughter had just experienced.
“I knew there were a lot of people back in Newnan who were trapped,” he said.
Becca and Harley rode out the EF4 tornado in their downstairs bathroom, “the one room downstairs that doesn’t have any windows,” Jason said.
After getting an emergency alert on her phone, Becca said she checked outside to find the night eerily bright. “We live in a heavily wooded area, and it’s normally pitch black at night,” Becca said. “But it was really bright and there was just constant lightning.”
Then, Becca got a text from her stepdaughter, who said she was watching the news and that the tornado was on the Scott family’s street.
“As soon as she texted me that, I got up, grabbed the dog and went to the bathroom,” Becca said.
When she heard the wind pick up, she got on top of her sleeping daughter. She stayed there as the tornado ripped apart their house.
“It just got so intensely loud, you couldn’t hear anything else,” Becca said. “Even though the roof was being ripped off and all the windows were being shattered, I couldn’t hear any of it. I only heard wind.”
Harley slept through the whole ordeal.
The family’s home is a total loss, according to a GoFundMe page set up by a friend. “Their property is destroyed with trees and debris everywhere,” the page said.
Jason took Becca, Harley and their dog to his aunt’s home in a nearby area that was not affected by the tornado, where the family continues to stay a week later.
Then, he went back to work.
“We were getting nonstop calls at the station that people were trapped,” Jason said. “Homes had trees fall on them, people were trapped in cars with power lines down on top of them, cars had flipped over with people in them.”
Jason stressed that he went back to work by choice.
“My chief, my fire department, everybody said, ‘Be with your family,’” Jason said. “But Becca and I both knew, once we knew they were safe, that there were still people that needed help.”
Just as Jason hurried back to Newnan to help his neighbors, the community has rallied around the Scott family. Their GoFundMe has nearly reached its $15,000 goal in about three days.
“It’s really been amazing and overwhelming, almost, with how many people are helping, not just our family personally, but just everyone,” Becca said. “When I pull up Facebook now it’s all I see; people are still posting about, ‘Where can I take donations? How can I volunteer? Does anybody need anything? I have chainsaws, my family wants to come help.’”
Becca said the response has buoyed their spirits and helped give them hope.
“People love Newnan. People love their city and they really want to help everybody that lives there,” she said. “It’s been amazing.”
As Jason worked through the night of March 25 and early in the morning on March 26 following the storms, he saw much of the same.
“You’re seeing people walking down the streets carrying cases of water and handing them out,” Jason said. “Food, diapers, clothing ... just everywhere you look there’s somebody helping.”
Jason also stressed how lucky the family is for not losing more.
“There’s one family in Newnan that lost everything that night,” Jason said. “That’s the family of the man that passed away trying to get to his daughter.”
That was Barry Martin, 56, who died after rushing to check on his daughter, parking his truck and continuing to her house on foot when the roads became impassable. His family said they believe he died from a heart attack. Because of the condition of the roads, emergency services could not respond in time to save him.
Since the storm, Newnan and Coweta County have experienced an outpouring of support from both average citizens and public figures. Atlanta Braves pitcher and Newnan native Will Smith organized an auction to raise money for victims of the storm, and former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas helped serve meals in Coweta with the organization’s community relations team on March 26.
“We just want Newnan to know that we love them,” Jason said. “We’re a part of this community and we’re all hurting.”