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EF-3 tornado confirmed in Griffin

Emmett Ponder survived curled up in a hallway closet, praying, as his home of more than 30 years disintegrated.

GRIFFIN, Ga. — It was an EF-3 tornado that ravaged part of Griffin. The National Weather Service confirmed that that EF-3 tornado caused some of the worst damage of the storms that raked across north Georgia.

Some of the homes on Kendall Drive are completely gone. The NWS survey team that inspected the destruction said there's no doubt residents there survived an EF-3 tornado–as their homes were falling apart around them.

Emmett Ponder was inside his home on Kendall Drive when the tornado hit. 

"I was in the kitchen fixing me a sandwich getting ready to take my medicine. Then, I just jumped right here in this closet," Ponder said of the moment he heard the roar and felt his house shaking. 

Ponder survived curled up in a hallway closet praying.

"All I hear was wind, and glass breaking, and the roof ripped off, and insulation blowing all through the house. And it was a very scary moment. I said, 'God, help me.' 'Cause that's the only thing I could think of to do."

In those few seconds, his home of more than 30 years disintegrated.

When he got up and looked around, "I said, 'Thank you, Lord, you blessed my life. To roll on just a little while longer,'" he recalled. Ponder said, proudly, he is 78 years old. 

Friday, he and his neighbors, whose homes were also destroyed, were gathering what they could salvage.

Pastor Kenyatta Bush of Liberty Springs Baptist Church in Griffin spent the day along Kendall Drive, helping organize clean-up campaigns and relief efforts.

"I got church members right down here, and church members around this corner," Pastor Bush said. "This is where the bulk of my church family lives, in this area."

Bush has been reassuring residents that the community is here for them, now and in the weeks and months ahead.

"In spite of all this damage, Griffin will be better. Kendalltown will survive and thrive," Bush said. "In the midst of tragedy, we all come together, we stick together, and love rules, and love overcomes all of the tragedy that we’re experiencing right now."

"It was a blow to me," Ponder said, "because I had never been through nothing like this before."

Ponder's close family friend Leonard Phillips, who was at the house helping Ponder, said, yes, the Ponder family has insurance, but the sense of loss can be overwhelming. "Just think of what you go through emotionally. One day everything is wonderful, and then the next day, you have ruins here," he said. "It's just a terrible thing."

Ponder and his family are trying to comfort each other with humor, telling 11Alive with a smile that they tell each other their laundry room is now their sunroom.

As they were first looking at all the destruction to the home and to the large yard, where the trees are now uprooted and fallen over--where they have always gathered happily over the years celebrating family reunions--they checked the tall cabinet in the now-open-air and collapsing kitchen. It is the cabinet full of the family’s cherished, heirloom china, passed down through the generations.

Ponder’s niece, Pat Willis, said she wept when she saw it, amazed: "We've cherished the pieces for years. Most delicate things in the house. Untouched. Everything’s just perfect."

"The only thing we can do is just try to adjust to it. And thank God we’re still here," Phillips said.

Insurance adjusters are already surveying, assessing, and estimating. Ponder’s home is a total loss.

He said he'll stay with family members until he can rebuild his house, and, at 78, start to rebuild his life.

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