SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Nolan Driggers reached for the front door, kids in tow and his wife one step behind him.
The family of four was trying to leave their home in Ellabell and hit the interstate after hearing about a tornado that touched down in Pembroke. Driggers did not realize it was just a few seconds away from his neighborhood when he received the notification.
Moments later, his home was upside down.
“We were at home and I had been watching the weather,” said Driggers. “Everything was pretty calm at my house. Then they said a tornado hit Pembroke. When I opened the back door to leave, I saw the tornado touching the top of my neighbor’s house. As it came over ours, I tried to pull a mattress over us. Our house started flipping two or three times. The entire time my wife was praying. We didn’t think we were going to make it.”
Once the storm passed, he called everyone’s name but there was one person that did not respond. In that moment, Driggers said he began praying that his child was not dead.
“I couldn’t find my 3-year old anywhere,” said Driggers. “I was trying to hold on to my two girls, but they slipped out of my hands. I found my 9-year old but I couldn’t find my 3-year old. There were a bunch of stuffed animals and blankets strewn around because of the tornado. Finally, I saw her feet and pulled her up. At first, she was not saying anything. I started shaking her and asking her if she was okay. Then she smiled and said, ‘I am okay.’ When I first saw her feet sticking up underneath all that stuff, I started screaming at the top of my lungs.”
In the midst of the chaos, Driggers did not realize he dislocated his shoulder. In addition, he suffered several cuts on his hip that led to a staph infection. “My leg got to where I couldn’t walk on it. I thought I could nurse it myself. Four or five days later, I was in the hospital.”
The family was given a camper to use temporarily, but with it being just 24-feet-wide, they knew it would not be a comfortable space to live in long-term. Driggers admitted he was frustrated with FEMA, saying he was under the impression they were going to provide assistance for those impacted by the tornado.
“It’s my fault,” said Driggers. “We did not have homeowner’s insurance. “We were waiting on FEMA to come in and then I found out that FEMA was not coming.”
But almost a month to the day of the tornado, Bryan County Sheriff Mark Crowe, Marty and Cindy Daniel of Daniel Defense, God’s Pit Crew and former NASCAR driver Jeb Burton provided the family with a new mobile home, complete with all new furniture.
“It’s incredible,” said Driggers. “I am so thankful for everyone’s support.”
OTHER FAMILIES STILL STRUGGLING TO FIND ASSISTANCE
But one family has not been so fortunate.
Yvonne Whitfield, whose home was destroyed in the Homestead subdivision in Ellabell, is in a battle with her insurance company due to a clause she believes is being enforced in her new policy, which does not go into effect until June.
“What they are telling us is they have a clause in my new policy that if the property is going to be repaired, they will pay for living expenses for a reasonable amount of time for us to live somewhere and they will pay for food and rent and things like that,” said Whitfield.
“But if our home is a total loss, they will only pay for the first seven days after they cut the check on the dwelling. Now that they are cutting the check on the dwelling, I am stuck dealing with all my additional living expenses, plus my mortgage payment that I have to continue to make.
Whitfield said her insurance company quoted just $42,000 in damages. Before the storm hit, Whitfield thought insurance would cover most or all of her expenses. In all, she has spent $10,000 and counting. “For a month now, we have been eating out and paying people.”
Whitfield added she thinks other communities were put before hers when it came to the cleanup efforts. But she praised two groups that stepped up in a big way.
“I don’t think they did it on purpose, but I don’t think they realized how bad it was on our side,” said Whitfield. “But Pembroke Advanced Communications — they were amazing with their equipment and generosity and camaraderie. And Sam-Jay Landscaping was very helpful as well. Had it not been for them, we would not have gotten as far as we did.”
For now, Whitfield is stuck paying for her camper and the mortgage from her home that was destroyed. She said it has been a painful process as she and her husband continue to shell out money to make sure they stay on top of their expenses.
“We pay insurance so you are protected,” said Whitfield. “But you are not protected. They are protecting themselves. My neighbor who has a different insurance company is getting a new roof put on their house. Their truck is being repaired. I haven’t gotten anywhere. We are already going through enough emotions and stress and trying to salvage things. There are things that are gone and you cannot replace them.”