Mother breaks ribs holding tightly to kids during tornado

Posted at 5:58 PM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-11 08:32:39-04

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Exactly one week since an EF-4 tornado destroyed communities and killed 18 people in Putnam County, survivors continue to heal from their injuries as they process what happened.

Eric and Faith Johnson are among the survivors in the tornado-ravaged community of North McBroom Chapel Road, where eight people died on Tuesday morning. The family of five is packed at a hotel room for the next several days as the community helps them rebuild. Faith is recovering from breaking two ribs after holding on so tightly to her 18-month-old son and three-year-old daughter.

"I'm in a lot of pain but my babies are worth it," Faith told NewsChannel 5.

Eric was badly hurt after he was ripped from his home and landed in the backyard. He remembered waking up on his knees and head bleeding. Eric showed NewsChannel 5 the nine staples across his head.

"I just can't believe we're still here," Eric said. "For us to walk from that is a complete miracle and there's no way to describe it."

Eric was awakened by their dog which prompted him to check the forecast. By the time he realized their lives were in danger, Faith and their children crouched in the bathtub. Roughly five seconds after he jumped in with them, Eric was blown away by the tornado.

"I grabbed my arms underneath it was already in our house. It already shifted and pushed our house on the front and our whole house exploded," Eric remembered. "The winds just sucked me off and threw me."

Faith described the moment like a scene straight from a movie as she watched him fly down what used to be their hallway. The bathtub shifted in different directions before breaking and landing on top of a pile of debris. Luckily, she and her kids were alive. Meanwhile, Eric woke up on his knees with his head bleeding and yelled for his family.

"He was looking as though he had to look for his children, but I held on to them," Faith said.

Eric has been returning to the scene every day since the tornado hit. He admitted the moment he nearly died keeps replaying in his head, but he visits hoping to find something new or their beloved dog that alerted him. The dog is alive, according to neighbors, but is too spooked to return. On Tuesday, Eric tied a shirt with his scent around the cage.

"She can track the scent to know this is where we lived at," he said.

Faith is hopeful someone will find her wedding ring. The amount of volunteers has been evident since last Tuesday, and the family said they're grateful.

If you'd like to donate to the family, click on this link created by Church on the Hill. Choose the 'Johnson Family' under the designation drop-down menu.