Tollesboro connection to Joplin, Mo. tornado

2011-05-25T23:00:00Z 2011-05-26T23:52:39Z Tollesboro connection to Joplin, Mo. tornadoMISTY MAYNARD misty.maynard@lee.net Ledger Independent

JOPLIN, Mo. -- It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Joplin, Mo., with no hint of an impending storm.

Eric Polley, a Tollesboro transplant to Joplin, was in the garage cleaning out a car while his wife, Sarah supervised their two children, 5-year-old Morgan and 7-year-old Mackenzie as they played in the yard.

Without warning, a tornado siren sounded.

Eric Polley said he told his wife to take their children inside. Within seconds, the electric was off and Eric Polley decided to manually close the garage door before seeking shelter inside the house as well. It didn't give him much time to seek shelter. While he didn't see the tornado, Polley heard the glass in the windows breakings and boards -- pieces of other homes in the area -- come through the house.

Eric Polley and his family waited in the bathtub as the tornado moved through the area. Eric Polley said they could hear the winds beating, feel the walls straining, even the bathtub moving as they remained in their shelter for at least 20 minutes. When it seemed the tornado had passed, Eric Polley said they opened the door to the bathroom and looked out.

"The first thing when I walked out that I could see was the sky," he said. The tornado had torn the roof from the house.

The walls of the house were still standing, but the house was severely damaged and all of the belongings inside the house had been affected.

Eric Polley said outside the house, his neighbors began running around, checking on people, assessing the damage.

"It was crazy," he said. "It was worse than anything I've ever seen in a movie ... I don't ever want to go through it again, that's for sure."

As Eric and Sarah Polley and their two daughters survived the tornado that devastated the town of Joplin, destroying St. John Hospital where Sarah Polley worked and leaving a death toll of more than 100 people in its wake, his family in Tollesboro knew nothing of what was happening.

It wasn't until Eric Polley called his father, David Polley to tell him they had lost everything that he even knew anything had happened.

David Polley said he had been planting corn all day Sunday, came into the house in the evening and showered and then received the call just before 6 p.m. David Polley shared the information with Eric Polley's sister, Sara Mellenkamp who said she initially down-played the severity of the tornado.

"When my dad told me, I thought it can't be that bad," she said.

Mellenkamp said she turned on The Weather Channel and began to watch coverage of the tornado.

"My heart went up in my throat, just knowing what could have happened," she said, tearing up at the thought.

Mellenkamp, who was college roommates with her brother's wife, said Sarah Polley thought it very likely they were going to die during the tornado -- that's how frightening it was -- and she told her children they would "just have to pray."

Eric and Sarah Polley are staying with Sarah Polley's grandmother in Joplin for the moment, along with her mother and stepfather, sister and brother. Sarah Polley's mother's home was also destroyed in the tornado.

Clean-up progress has been delayed as Eric Polley waits for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the insurance company to give them the OK. Mellenkamp said the children, Morgan and Mackenzie, will be coming to Tollesboro to stay with her for a couple of weeks Monday, to allow Eric and Sarah Polley time to rebuild.

In a couple of weeks, once FEMA and the insurance company have finished assessment of the damage, David Polley, his sons and a few other members of the community plan to travel to Joplin to help Eric Polley rebuild his home.

Mellenkamp said several people have offered donations to her for her brother, but for now the family has all basic necessities. Eric Polley said it was nice to see how in the midst of the disaster "people helping people."

Copyright 2015 Ledger Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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