Midstate family picks up pieces after tornado destroyed home

Michele Guill and her 10-year-old daughter Carliegh didn’t have the kind of Easter they expected.

Instead of sitting down to a nice Easter dinner and enjoying a planned Easter egg hunt, the two were hunting for family keepsakes in the remains of Guill’s parent’s house near Sparta that was destroyed by a tornado Friday night.

Michele, Carliegh and Michele’s mother, Shirley Bennett, were in the house when the tornado hit. It was the house Troy Bennett had spent a year building after he retired from the Cobb County Fire Department.

Three tornados hit Hancock County Friday night, according to the National Weather Service, two EF-0 rated tornados and one EF-3, which hit the Bennett house.

Seven other houses were destroyed by twisters in Hancock County.

“Before it hit, I felt the pressure — a lot of pressure,” Michele Guill said as she held her hands over her ears. She and her daughter were staying with Shirley Bennett because of the impending storm and Bennett’s house was sturdier than hers.

They seemed to do everything right. The three huddled with sofa cushions in a downstairs interior closet.

“We were still holding on to each other,” when the trio were thrown along with the closet several yards away.

“I honestly felt I was going to die,” Michele Guill said.

While something gored into Guill’s elbow, her daughter was not injured, but her mother was hurt. A chest of drawers ended up on top of her.

Friday night, Guill’s father, Troy Bennett, 60, was staying in a small house out on the farm because he planned to get up early to go turkey hunting.

His daughter called him on her cell phone about 11 p.m.

When downed trees blocked his driveway, Bennett jumped out of his truck and over the trees to run to the house.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said when he arrived at his destroyed house.

At first, he was hesitant to move his wife, but then it started hailing and raining. So with help, she was moved to a neighbor’s house before she was taken to the hospital, Bennett said.

Shirley was back from the hospital Saturday because she didn’t want to spend Easter away from her family, he said.

Bennett started building the 3,700-square-foot house the day after he retired from the Cobb County Fire Department in April 1999.

“It took a year to build and about 30 seconds to destroy it,” he said.

He hopes to build back at the same location, but it may have a new type of room.

“I’m thinking of building a storm cellar,” he said.

Bennett was stunned all weekend at the outpouring of help from friends and even people he didn’t know.

The owner of Rocky’s convenience store came by, a man Bennett had seen but didn’t know his name. An hour later, the man brought back water and drinks for everyone.

Mike Boyer, who lives nearby, lost about 50-75 pecan trees from his orchard.

“I just heard whirring winds,” he said. But other family members lost their homes in tornadoes that came through Hancock County in February.

Boyer came by to offer help to Bennett and his family.

Bennett said how much he appreciated it, and said “There’s got to be somebody up there,” motioning toward the blue afternoon sky.

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223