Four children are among the 23 who died in the Alabama tornado.
BEAUREGARD, Ala. – Sheila Creech narrowly missed the full force of Hurricane Michael when it devastated Panama City, Florida, in October.
The roof of her apartment had been ripped off, but she fared better than most. Her granddaughter, Desteni Clifton, lost everything from her apartment, the 21-year-old said Tuesday. Both women evacuated ahead of the hurricane, Creech to Beauregard, and Clifton to Birmingham, Alabama.
Marshall Lynn Grimes, a man Creech married young and had two children with before the relationship fell apart was in Beauregard, Clifton said.
“They reconnected on Facebook, I believe,” Clifton said of the couple. “They were both pretty avid Facebookers. Even hours before the tornado hit.”
Grimes and Creech, both 59, were two of 23 victims of an EF4 tornado that ripped through the Beauregard community in Lee County on Sunday.
Creech had been with Grimes for the weekend, as she was known to do to visit her fiancé. The couple, recently engaged, had planned to wed in January, Clifton said.
“We were just looking at wedding invitations the other day,” she said. “I had just seen her. She was planning on moving up here by the fall.”
The couple, along with Grimes’ 11-year-old daughter, a preacher and 10-year-old Taylor Thornton, one of the tornado’s youngest victims, were camping when the storm blew through, Clifton said.
“I guess they maybe didn’t hear the sirens, or if they did it was too late for them to get anywhere safe,” Clifton said. “It was a total surprise. She was very young and so was he. We were very very shocked to hear the whole thing happened.”
Grimes’ young daughter suffered two broken legs. The preacher, who had been with them, identified all of the victims to authorities, Clifton said.
It wasn’t until Monday morning that Clifton learned of the devastating twister.
“I worked all day Sunday and didn’t hear about it at all,” she said. “When my alarm went off yesterday, my alarm starts playing the news and that’s the first I’d heard about it.”
Unsure where Lee County was, she did a quick internet search, only to find that the county included Beauregard, where Grimes lived.
“I called my grandma and she didn’t answer,” she said. “I just wanted to check that her fiancé was OK, but when she didn’t answer I just got the worst gut feeling. She lived with her phone right next to her at all times. She would have called me back if she could have.”
Clifton, unlike most young adults, does not have many social media accounts, and with a strained relationship with her mother, it took time for her worst fears to be confirmed.
Clifton’s extended family found one of her friends on social media and reached out to her in an effort to reach the 21-year-old.
“My friend had to tell me what had happened. She was heartbroken to have to tell me,” Clifton said.
Having never experienced a close death in the family, Clifton turned to an anonymous internet community, Reddit, to express her emotions. On her post, she included the last photograph Grimes took of himself and Creech last week.
“It’s been a long six months y’all,” she wrote under a pseudonym. “I was supposed to be a bridesmaid. I can’t even really articulate proper sentences right now but my grandma has helped me out a lot and we were very close. I always told everyone that she would live forever because she’s a strong woman.”
The majority of those who commented on Clifton’s post were supportive, she said.
“So many people reached out to me in my messages,” she said. “So many from Opelika, Auburn, Beauregard even. They are just saying that ‘we’ll get you anything you need,’ tons of people reaching out. If I need a meal. People just want to meet up and that was crazy to me. I’m very appreciative.”
Clifton said plans were being made to have Creech buried in LaGrange, Georgia, where she grew up. She said she was unsure about arrangements for Grimes.
Follow Kirsten Fiscus on Twitter: @KDFiscus
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