Tornado survivor can't forget riding it out in her van

jwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 5, 2013 

The last time Dorcas Burton was in her Chevy Astro van, she got the wildest ride of her life.

Burton and her daughter Kim, 21, were in the van in downtown West Liberty on March 2 last year when a killer tornado roared through just before 6 p.m.

"We were terrified," Burton said. "It felt like the van was going to be lifted up and carried away, but it was as if God just kept pushing it back down. Cars were flipped on their sides just three parking places behind us."

The van's side windows blew out; the windshield shattered and bowed inward, but it never gave way. Debris from nearby buildings "beat the van to death," Burton said.

"It seemed like forever, but it was only about 35 seconds. They had to remove debris piled up against the van before we could get out," Burton said.

Besides the van, her shop on Main Street in West Liberty, Gift Baskets Galore, was destroyed — nine years to the day after Burton opened it.

Things look better now. In June, Burton launched a new shop, The Primitive Homestead.

"I thought, 'We don't have anything to lose,'" she said. "So far, the store has exceeded expectations. The county has made some good steps toward recovery, but it will take time. You just have to keep working at it."

Burton is confident of one thing: "God was with us."

The West Liberty storms hit Mike Stacy's business not once, but twice.

High winds tore off the roof of his Country Carpet store on Feb. 28, 2012. Stacy and his employees worked furiously for the next two days, moving inventory to the safety of a former Dollar General store across town.

They finished at 5:30 p.m. on March 2, 2012 — about 25 minutes before the tornado destroyed the Dollar General building and everything in it.

"Our insurance adjuster said he'd never heard of anything like it," Stacy said.

Stacy bounced back, working out of a camper until his original Country Carpet building was repaired. Now, carpet sales are booming as residents repair or replace homes damaged in the storms.

"Sad to say, it really helped our business," Stacy said. "We've been swamped."

Eddie and Sherri Granger moved to West Liberty from Florida a few years ago.

"We wanted to get away from hurricanes," Sherri Granger said.

They haven't seen a single hurricane. But Red Rooster Antiques, the Grangers' store in downtown West Liberty, was heavily damaged by the March 2 tornado.

"I'll never forget seeing the church steeple laying on its side in the middle of the street," Eddie Granger said. "I saw a friend of ours just walking around downtown saying, 'It's all gone.' Those things you'll never forget."

The Grangers have rebuilt. Red Rooster Antiques reopened Feb. 21 with more space than before.

"It's been an experience," Eddie Granger said. "And we never want to go through anything like it again."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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