Midstaters recount Putnam storm: 'I could feel the wind lifting me up and dropping me back down'

Martrel Williams thought he was about to die.

"I was laying there thinking, 'this is it, this is how it ends.'"

Williams and three others were inside the Westside Drive Club, also known as Robert's Place, on Glenwood Springs Road east of Eatonton on Wednesday evening when a possible tornado leveled the place.

"The front door began banging open and shut, and then it sounded like bricks or rocks hitting the building. I dove under a pool table."

Those with him did the same, and Robert Parham Sr., the owner, hid beneath the bar.

The winds tore the roof off and then crumbled the cinder block walls. It snapped power poles and trees outside, and ripped half the roof off Parham's house next door. A mobile home on the other side of the club, where Parham's son, Clyde, lived, was lifted off its foundation but then dropped straight back down.

"Even laying under the pool table, I could feel the wind lifting me up and dropping me back down," Williams said. "All you could hear was the wind roaring and things hitting the walls and breaking. I knew I was going to die."

But then the wind stopped and all three men crawled out of the wreckage with only minor cuts and bruises.

"My friend's car we had come in had been pushed around and all the windows were broken. Then someone drove by and we all piled in the backseat and got out of here," Williams said.

Thursday morning he was back to survey the damage and tell of his experience.

"I still tremble when I think about it."

Parham's daughter-in-law, Sandra Parham, said he and all the others on the hill escaped serious injury during the storm.

"The Lord was watching over everyone. It's a miracle no one was killed or seriously hurt," she said.

Parham was injured Thursday morning, however, when trying to put his dog back into a pen. It had run off during the storm.

"The dog bit him. I guess he was still bewildered by the storm," Sandra Parham said.

"He said when he heard the storm he opened the door to try to run to the house, but it was too late, so he laid down under the bar," she said.

Jeanette Harden, who said she lives about a quarter of a mile from Parham, said the storm tore shingles off her house, downed trees in the yard and destroyed a storage shed.

"I was watching the news and they said Eatonton was about to be hit, to take cover. Then I opened the door to look out, and I saw it. It was a big black whirl in the air and it sounded like a train roaring by. We got down in the hall and waited for it to pass over. Thank God no one was hurt."

Several miles away, on the south side of Eatonton at the Putt Putt Dragway off U.S. 441, all six buildings and the grandstands were destroyed when the same storm ripped through.

"It's just a blessing it happened Wednesday evening instead of Thursday," said Patrice Terrell, whose family has owned and operated the track for 30 years. "We have races on Thursday night and Sunday, so there would have been people here then. But no one was here when the storm hit."

Power crews were on hand to clear downed lines, and then Terrell said the family will begin clearing away the debris.

"We'll be back and running by April 16 when we have our annual Good Thursday race. That's one of our big events each year," she said.

Another tornado hit about 2,000 feet from the track in 1992, killing four people. But there were only a few minor injuries in Putnam County in Wednesday's storm, which also toppled trees and power poles on U.S. 129 south of Eatonton.

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