S.C. Storm Deaths Hit Close to Home
Survivor Feels God's Grace Amid Chaos
November 18, 2011 - Disaster struck on Wednesday in a rural pocket of Rock Hill, S.C., leaving three people in their 60s dead and many neighbors left to pick up the pieces.
She’s a widow, living by herself. She’s so grateful God took care of her, but she’s pretty shook up.
— Marilyn Sides
By Trevor Freeze
Two nights ago, Mona was sitting on her front porch, on a desolate road in rural Rock Hill, S.C., when she sensed something wasn't right.
These weren't just winds howling at the modest brick house on Williamson Road she's lived in for 50 years.
This was something she had never experienced.
"I tell ya," Mona said, pausing to relive the storm. "The winds took the tiles right off the house."
So as she saw the tornado in the distance, Mona decided it was time to head inside and grabbed a seat on the couch, hoped and prayed.
An EF2 tornado, measuring 135 miles per hour and two football fields wide, came barreling through, narrowing missing Mona's house, causing roof and garage damage.
Less than 200 yards away, her neighbors weren't so fortunate.
Charles Keneth Hafner, 60, who walked his dog at 5 p.m. every evening so faithfully you could set your watch to it, and his wife Barbara, 62, were in their mobile home, which was picked up off its foundation and landed across Highway 324.
"(Mona) can hardly stand still. She doesn't know what to do," said Billy Graham Rapid Response chaplain Marilyn Sides, who along with Samaritan's Purse, was in Rock Hill Friday ministering to the survivors. "She's a widow, living by herself. She's so grateful God took care of her, but she's pretty shook up. I told her there's a reason God spared her life."
It wasn't just the Hafners death that stirred Mona. Just a few blocks down the road and mere seconds earlier, the twister claimed another life, Steve Courtney, 60, who died saving his daughter and granddaughter.
In one of the most tragic storm stories you'll ever hear, Courtney died while bellowing prayers to God to keep his daughter and granddaughter safe.
With his wife Sharon at a Bible study, Courtney, a longtime Rock Hill electrician, dove behind the couch when the storm hit, but as the roof was torn off his home, the chimney collapsed and killed him.
Pictures and checks from Courtney were found over 20 miles away in Charlotte.
"Steve was a good guy," said Mona's son Perry, who lived on the same street as Courtney for 35 years until he moved away. "Every Sunday you would see him driving back and forth to church."
Williamson Road, just off Highway 324 has seen little change over the years and many families have grown up and built houses next door or across the street. Courtney had been eating dinner with his mother, Betty, when he hurried back home because of the impending storm signs.
The National Weather Service reportedly issued tornado warnings at 5:05 p.m., with the tornado hitting Williamson Road at 5:41.
"We've all known each other forever around here," Perry said.
The Hafner's daughter, Patty, her husband Kevin and their 5-year-old son came in from Gastonia to help with the cleanup efforts on Friday, the same day they were scheduled to have lunch with Patty's parents.
Sides talked and prayed with the family and gave them a copy of Billy Graham's "When the Whole World Changes." Sides and Lloyd of Samaritan's Purse presented Patty with a new leather Bible.
"She said they were going to miss them like crazy," Sides said. "But that she knew her parents were in heaven. She also said she was just talking about how she needed a new Bible."
With Thanksgiving coming up, Patty was having a difficult time thinking about celebrating the holiday.
"She said she didn't want to even think about Thanksgiving, but that she wanted to do Christmas," Sides said. "(Kevin's) mom had just died a year earlier so now their son didn't have any grandparents."
Sides was blessed to be able to share a little bit with the 5-year-old boy.
"I told him, 'When you pray it's OK to tell God that you miss your grandma and grandpa and to tell them hi,'" said Sides, who finished by telling Patty and Kevin "His word will give you comfort and He will give you strength, and she gave me the biggest hug."