'Now I have no one': Granddaughter mourns relatives killed by tornado

News-DemocratNovember 18, 2013 

The tornado took Amy Tippin's home, grandmother and great uncle on Sunday.

"Now I have no one," she said Monday as she stood near where her mobile home had been and sifted through the wreckage at the Hoy farm, about 36 miles from Belleville. The elderly Hoy siblings raised exotic animals in New Minden before the farm was flattened Sunday by an EF4 tornado with winds up to 166 mph.

Tippin for 14 years has resided about a city block from her grandmother's farmhouse, with her two sons, Dylan, 14, Devon, 16, and her ex-husband who is facing cancer. She and the boys survived by running to a nearby creek.

There have been storms before. She said the same question faces them each time.

"Do we need to go or do we need to stay? This time it was time to go. It was right behind me, and I'm thinking, 'Oh my God. We're not going to make it.'"

Adrenalin kicked in and they covered the 40 yards to the creek.

"I said to my boys, 'I love you guys. I love you.' And then it was just gone. It was just gone."

She said the storm disappeared and the sky was blue.

She was grateful for a pile of debris in the creek.

"That's what saved us -- all of that stuff there."

After it was over, she realized, "Oh my God, I've got to get Uncle Joe and Grandma."

She said her grandmother, Frances Hoy, 78, was pinned under a bunch of debris.

"She was under so much stuff. All she kept saying was, 'Get me out of here. Get me out of here.'"

Frances Hoy died at 1:45 p.m. Sunday at Washington County Hospital, Coroner Mark Styninger said. Joseph Hoy, 80, was pronounced dead at 1:13 p.m. Sunday when his body was found 100 yards east of his home in a farm field.

Tippin said her ex-husband, Frank, was unable to flee the mobile home because he is suffering from prostate cancer. They put him in the bathtub.

"His foot is injured bad. All the debris kept hitting him," Tippin said.

He was taken to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, where his broken ankle was treated before he was released. She said she was thankful her sons came away with only scratches.

"It's my boys. Oh my God, I don't know what I'd do if I lost my boys."

The farm was busy Monday with people helping pick up debris. The Hoys' ducks, pigeons and other creatures were flying around or penned.

One of the first people at the Hoy farm after the tornado was neighbor Glen Harmening, who lives about a half mile away. His relatives were coming up to the house just as the tornado hit.

"We were incredibly lucky. I saw the tornado," Harmening said. "It was mass chaos for a little bit. I said, 'We have a tornado on the ground.' Then the sky was clear and the sun was shining and there was a rainbow off to the east."

His house was not damaged. His wife looked toward New Minden and said, "There's no steeple at the church."

In town, the 150-year-old St. John's Lutheran Church lost its roof. Four houses across Illinois 127 from the church had significant damage.

The Rev. Timothy Mueller has been pastor of the church for 26 years. He said storms damaged the roof and steeple in 1896 and 1907, but not the walls that were built 150 years ago from locally quarried stone. "Those walls are just incredibly solid, I guess."

"Our first concern is for the families that lost loved ones," Mueller said.

The church intends to care for the 10 families who lost homes, Mueller said. He spoke with three of the families who lost houses across from the church, and said they barely made it to their basements before the storm hit. And people who were gathered in the church for a baptism left the building only 15 minutes or so before the tornado hit.

He said despite all the loss, the community members have a lot for which they should be thankful.

"The church is not a building. The church is people. The building is a place where people meet. We see people here right now being the church."

He said volunteers started pouring in. The church was humming Monday and the church hall was serving lunch, some of which came from an Okawville church's chili and chicken soup supper Sunday night.

"It just started pouring in. People heard, and they went to work."

People were gathering debris from town as well as from fields. Police, utility crews and media were the other large presences in town.

Damage was not in a straight line. It appeared the tornado had skipped some homes while leveling others.

"When bad things happen, we don't pretend to know the will of God, why it happens to some and not others," Mueller said.

Jim Preston resides in a ranch-style house across from the church. The house's roof is gone, and it's been reduced to little more than interior walls.

Preston, 51, who works in the parts department at a Nashville auto dealer, said he looked out his back window and saw the tornado approaching.

"It just kept coming this way, kept coming this way," Preston said. "Finally, I could see the debris coming by the house, so I went to the basement."

It didn't last long, but he could hear walls and glass breaking.

"Maybe a minute?" Preston said. "It's kind of hard to say."

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, walked through New Minden on Monday afternoon, and said the cleanup effort was inspiring. He said some of the people working at the church told him their great-great-grandparents helped build it.

"These people, it just goes to show you, this community is tight," McCarter said. "They care for each other, and you can't stop them."

The Blue Room tavern, a New Minden landmark with its weathered wood exterior and crooked, creaky floors, escaped undamaged. The neon "Open" sign was blazing.

Bill Funke is another of the Hoys' neighbors, living about a half mile away.

"They'd do anything for you. They were friendly, outgoing and really liked exotic animals," he said Monday morning as he paused from clearing debris.

Funke was in his driveway Sunday afternoon watching the funnel cloud come at him, trying to take some pictures, and fled to the cellar with his wife when it was about half to a quarter mile away. Their house survived, but lost some siding and the front porch. He lost his barn, a chicken coop and two sheds, with one shed landing a half mile away.

"It was bad, but I feel good," he said. "Life goes on and none of us here was hurt."

The Hoys were among six people killed and dozens injured statewide after a series of tornadoes and thunderstorms swept through Illinois and the Midwest on Sunday. One person died in Washington, near Peoria, and three others died in Massac County, south of Carbondale.

Click below to see how tornado damage is measured.

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