LOOKING BACK:One year after deadly tornado slams Crittenden

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By Bryan Marshall

Jackie Nelson was listening to warnings for Crittenden residents to take cover when the TV abruptly shut off.
Her wind chimes started making furious music.
Trees outside frantically moved from side to side as the sky grew black.
The tornado had arrived.

Jackie, who was in her Barley Circle apartment with her two children, 8-year-old Zeke and 5-year-old Cloe, had taken a queen-size mattress off the bed and put it in the hallway between the two bedrooms.
They huddled under the mattress to take cover from the storm.

“The bedroom doors were going boom, boom, boom,” Jackie said. “The wind was coming through Zeke’s room. You could hear stuff flying in there and hitting.”

Jackie quickly decided to move into the laundry room.
Her goal was to keep the children calm as the tornado wrecked havoc through Crittenden.

“I kept telling the kids it was OK and we were fine,” Jackie said. “I started singing ‘ Jesus Loves Me’ while it was going on to keep their mind off of it. They were asking, ‘Are we going to die?’ They were kind of freaked, but they calmed down. They did really great.”

Despite all of the damage it created, Jackie said the tornado did not even last five minutes before it disappeared.

She immediately grabbed her phone to check on a neighbor who lives in the next building.
Everyone in the complex soon emerged from their apartments and made sure no one was injured.

“We’re like a real close-knit family in the building,” Jackie said.
Despite scattered debris, insulation and glass, the apartment survived relatively intact.
Even the wind chimes stayed hanging.
“We were lucky. We were very lucky,” Jackie said. “We got some damage, but it’s not that bad. We can clean up, but everything is intact. When I look out and see other places, I just think, ‘Oh, my God.’”

Jackie’s long-time boyfriend and father of Zeke and Cloe, Steve Serra, was headed home southbound Interstate 75 from a doctor’s appointment in Florence when the tornado touched down.
“I saw the tornadoes twisting and watched them go straight toward our apartment building,” he said. “We got off the exit and they wouldn’t let me through to the complex. I got out of my dad’s truck and ran home. I kept thinking, ‘Is my family OK and I have to get there quick.’”
Steve, who suffers from emphysema, said he shouldn’t be running, but he was determined to make sure his family was safe.

He puffed on his inhaler throughout his trek to the complex.
Before he reached his home, Steve saw a nearby apartment building that was missing a top floor.

“My heart just sank,” he said. “I just ran faster. When I saw ours, just all the windows were blown out.”
Tears rolled down as he reunited with his family.
Unable to stay at their apartment, the family slept on cots at the American Red Cross shelter at Grant County High School.
Volunteers provided plenty of food and other items they needed.
Zeke and Cloe were able to play games to get their minds off the previous hours.
Jackie finally was able to fall asleep after 2 a.m.

The next morning, as they prepared to head back to their apartment to assess the damage, Jackie said she realized things could have been more tragic.

“We were blessed,” she said.