In a matter of seconds early Sunday morning, members of the Goff family saw their homes and everything surrounding them transformed.
The Goffs were among dozens of residents affected by the tornado that ripped through south Augusta's Gracewood community early Sunday, leaving a path of toppled trees, dangling power lines and destroyed homes.
At about midnight, Barry Goff, his wife, Debbie, and his brother Chuck were talking on the back porch of the Goff's south Augusta doublewide mobile home, when severe wind tore through the area.
The trio found refuge in a bathroom. When they emerged - no more than a minute later - hundreds of trees surrounding the trailer were scattered like toothpicks.
"We realized we were in for a hell of a damn mess," Chuck Goff said. "Lucky is not the word for it. The good Lord was looking out for us, I can tell you that right now."
After the storm, Chuck ran to his own home several yards away. His wife, Carol, and 18-month-old daughter, Madeline, had been asleep.
High velocity winds had shot branches 1 inch in diameter through the Goff's home.
A strip of the trailer's roof above Madeline's crib was torn away. But the baby and most of the home were fine Sunday afternoon.
Not everyone in the area was as lucky.
Nancy Warren, who lives next door to Barry Goff, was visiting family in Aiken with her granddaughter at the time of the storm. Her daughter Michelle called her at 7 a.m. Sunday to tell her about the storm. When she arrived at her Forest Road residence, she found her mobile home flattened.
"I just had this little place," the emotionally shaken woman said. "Everything I ever had in my whole life was in there. I'm in preshock right now. The Lord was looking out for me last night."
Ms. Warren's friends and family were distraught.
"It was terrible," Mrs. Goff said. "I didn't know if (Ms. Warren) was in there or not.
"It sounded like a freight train. You couldn't hear each other speak."
Ms. Warren, who has no insurance, had lived in the Forest Road area next to her daughter for six years.
Less than a mile away, 5-year-old Cory Louis Childers was seriously injured when bricks and roof debris came crashing onto him early Sunday. Cory was spending the night with his friend Evan Rangel, 5, when he was injured.
Evan's father, Billy Rangel, was at work at International Paper Co. when the storm came through. After hearing of the accident, Mr. Rangel rushed to his Fairbluff Road residence to find his house devastated.
Cory, Evan and his mother, Amy Rangel, were taken to the Medical College of Georgia Hospital. Mrs. Rangel and her son were treated for minor injuries and released Sunday morning.
Cory remained at the hospital, where he was listed in fair condition Sunday night.
"We're praying little Cory will be OK," Mr. Rangel said. "That's a good enough Christmas for me."
While most of the houses in the area suffered minor roof damage, American Red Cross officials said 15 homes were completely destroyed.
On Sunday afternoon, friends and family rallied around the storm's victims, lending support in every way they could.
"The men in this neighborhood last night pulled together," Mrs. Goff said."Everyone of them."
Victims were offered food, clothing and shelter from various people and organizations. Although most victims said they will stay with loved ones during the recovery period, the Red Cross is providing assistance to anyone who needs it.
Reach Ashlee Griggs and Josh Gelinas at (706) 724-0851.
People wishing to assist storm victims should contact the American Red Cross, 1322 Ellis St., Augusta, GA 30901 or call (706) 724-8481. Donations of clothing, blankets, linens and household supplies may be dropped off at the Red Cross or at First Baptist Church of Gracewood off Peach Orchard Road.
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