Storm takes ‘everything’ from family

By Nicole Daughhetee
Staff Reporter

EASLEY — Brian James carries with him the recollections of a tornado that hit Easley in 1974.
Although he was only a toddler, he vividly remembers the grey sky and swirling funnel of blackness that touched down near his family home on Lenhardt Road. James has been fearful of tornados ever since and with good reason: Each year tornadoes kill about 60 people in the U.S., but they injure about 20 times as many.
South Carolina averages approximately 12 tornados per year. The National Weather Service reports that the tornado that touched down last Tuesday, November 30, had 105 mph winds, making it an EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
Along with his mother and fiancée, Amber Hughes, James was ready to settle in and watch a movie while rain steadily poured down outside that Tuesday night. The three of them have been staying in his mother’s single-wide trailer because James and Hughes have been renovating and making improvements to their trailer. Both trailers, along with his childhood house, are located on the family property on Lenhardt Road.
After seeing the tornado warnings on the local news, James was on high alert and checked the weather doppler on the news one last time before settling in to watch the movie.
Minutes after beginning the movie, James said he heard a loud clap of thunder and saw lightning streak through the sky.
“I kept listening for train-like sounds,” said James, “but I never heard anything like that.”
James did, however, notice that the sound of the rain had changed and was beating harder on the trailer’s metal roof. Seconds later, Hughes recalls, the trailer was being pushed back by an invisible force, and outside there were sounds of snapping wood.
Once their home started to shift under their feet, James made sure his mother and fiancée were secured under a mattress.
“Then the phone rang, and it was my neighbor. He told me that he couldn’t see my trailer,” said James. “I looked out the window, but all I could see was blackness.”
Certain that the storm had passed, James and Hughes went outside and noticed that their home was, in fact, gone. There was not much the couple could do in the darkness of that night.
Friends and neighbors, who called to make sure that no one had gotten hurt, offered the family a place to stay for the night. James and Hughes decided to wait for daylight to assess the extent of the damage. The next morning the couple came home to a devastating reality.
Standing alone in the middle of the family property are the cinderblock anchors upon which the home of Brian James and Amber Hughes once sat.
Lying about 30-40 yards behind those anchors is a violently mangled wreckage of metal and wood — broken pieces of chairs and other pieces of furniture are scattered all over the property.
“Everything that I have worked for over the last 37 years was destroyed in a matter of minutes,” said James.
“God was with us,” said Hughes. “It amazes me that none of us were hurt. The windows didn’t even break in the home where we were staying.”
Also amazing is the couple’s dog Bear. In a chain-link kennel, mere steps from the trailer’s cinderblock foundation, Bear weathered the storm unscathed.
“He’s really the only one who saw what happened,” James said of Bear. “He’s the one with the real story.”
Like so many others, James and Hughes have suffered financially in the wake of the nation’s troubled economy. A mason and construction worker by trade, James has struggled along with a dwindling job market, and Hughes takes care of her nieces and nephews during the day.
“We couldn’t maintain insurance on our trailer because we had to make a choice between food and insurance payments,” said James. “I would like to be able to cut up some of the trees that were uprooted and sell the firewood to earn some money, but I don’t even have my chainsaw anymore. I had to sell it to pay bills.”
Laurel Maco, a Preparedness and Response Specialist with the American Red Cross of Pickens County, responded immediately, offering the family shelter, food and some emergency funding. Various friends and neighbors have volunteered to lend a hand, however, surveying the twisted wreckage that is left of their home, James, shaking his head, said, “I don’t even know here to start.”
James and Hughes have essentially lost everything with the exception of some clothing they kept at his mother’s house, where they have been living. Their home and all of their possessions — many of which, because of the sentimental value, are irreplaceable, have been lost.
In spite of all that they’ve endured, James and Hughes remain optimistic.
“We should have been in that trailer and we weren’t,” James said. “We are thankful that no one was killed and for what we still have — each other.”
Anyone interested in helping Brian James and Amber Hughes can contact Laurel Maco at the American Red Cross at (864) 878-0131.