Horses and humans wait out storm in Monroe County basement

While his co-workers at Georgia Power were talking on Monday morning about damage from the previous night’s storms, Stewart Barr showed off pictures of the three horses that took shelter in his basement.

“It wasn’t what I was envisioning happening on Sunday night,” Barr said.

Jennifer Mastronardi was headed back from an equestrian competition in Conyers Sunday evening and stopped in northern Monroe County to pick up her son, who spent the night at Barr’s home in the River Forest community.

With three kids in her truck and three horses in her trailer, she got off Interstate 75 at Exit 193 and met Barr nearby.

“My son got in my truck, and that’s when everything started kind of going crazy,” Mastronardi said.

Barr had already gone back to his house when the tornado warning was issued, and Mastronardi stuck around to check a weather radar map on her phone.

“We didn’t want to drive straight into the storm,” she said.

A native of south Florida, Mastronardi said she’s used to hurricanes but had never experienced a tornado warning.

Minutes later, another alert was issued, making two separate warnings for northern and southern Monroe County.

“That’s when I called Stewart, and I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to drive into your neighborhood and find the lowest point and just go park there.’ ” Mastronardi said. “I didn’t really know what to do.”

Barr, who moved in three months ago, told Mastronardi to come to his house, but she hadn’t been there before and didn’t think she had enough time for directions. So she drove through the neighborhood and parked in a cul-de-sac.

That’s when everything started spinning.

“I called Stewart back, and I said, ... ‘I think I’m going to unload the horses and go down to a (low area) with them.’ ” Mastronardi said. “Just in case the storm comes, I’ll just turn the horses loose. ... I mean, I didn’t know what to do.”

She told Barr the name of the street she was on, and he realized it was his street.

Before long, “We were trotting up their street with leaves flying and circling and everything was getting pretty scary,” Mastronardi said. “We literally ran ... to his basement.”

The three horses, which were unusually calm, were led into the basement through a rolling door Barr recently installed to store lawn equipment.

Barr fed everyone barbecue sandwiches, and Mastronardi’s daughter shared a bag of peppermints.

“We were like, ‘I can’t believe this. We were freaking out five minutes ago, and now we’re all sitting here having barbecue and peppermints with horses in a basement,” said Mastronardi.

To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4382.