After storm winds damaged their storage unit, Mary and James Staton went though the debris of the single-wide trailer. She picked up a soaked box, which fell apart in her hands.
Right on top of the remains was a dry picture of James’ stepfather Graham Godwin.
“He gave me away at our wedding because I didn’t have anybody else to,” Mary said while remembering getting married to James. “He passed away two years ago.”
Underneath, was a zip-locked bag with two prayer books of her deceased mother Bernice McDermott. Also untouched was the sweater of his late father, J.W. Staton. Inside the home is a picture of James and the elder Johnson wearing the sweater at different points in time.
While going through the wreckage, Mary picked up two Christmas ornaments with the names of beloved family and friends embroidered. One was J.W. and the other one was her best friend, Stella Wilhelm, who passed away from cancer.
“We found something of theirs untouched,” Mary said. “Everything was destroyed except for that.”
It gave Mary chills.
“I’m not a real religious person, but I got to believe they were watching over us,” Mary said. “That roof could have came right through our bedroom. It could have knocked this trailer over as easily as that one.
“We must have angles watching over us,” Mary said. “It came all the way around us.”
The roof of the mobile unit stopped at the back wall, next to their bedroom. The only damage near the room was a post from an air conditioning unit and cable wiring.
Bedtime for the couple is usually around 11 o’ clock. Mary was feeding her pets Monday when she heard loud thunder. The rain started coming down, so hard they were unsure if it was hail. Then came strong winds.
“I got a little scared because the trailer started to shake a bit,” Staton said.
She thought a tornado was coming towards the home. James wasn’t really convinced that a twister was coming.
“The trailer started shaking like crazy and things were fallen out of our kitchen cabinets and fallen off the shelves,” Mary said. “I had to yell at my husband that it was a tornado. The cats were running to hide under the beds and the dogs were whimpering. It felt like it was moving side to side.
“It sounded like a train coming through here,” Mary said.
The Buffalo, N.Y. native was petrified of the scary experience on Monday night. She’s been through many blizzards in the north, but the storm was something she’s never been through.
“Then it just stopped,” Mary said.
Suddenly they heard a loud crushing sound. They leaned out the door and saw the storage trailer on top of their car and truck. An oak tree also landed on the vehicles.
“We didn’t get any type of warning,” she said about receiving a late notice from the television and not on their phones. “It started and ended in less than five minutes.”
Holding flashlights, the Statons walked around their soaked land, shining light on their own storage facility with personal possessions from deceased family members such as her mother.
“I got things that belonged to my mother before she passed away, craft items made by two of my sisters, before they passed away,” Mary said. “My brother is gone, I had all my family pictures that weren’t framed in boxes … everything got soaked.”
But she was grateful of things spared from family angels.
Their home on Basstown Road in the Keener area was one of many damaged in Sampson County. A lot of storm victims, believe that Monday’s incident was a tornado. But weather officials said the devastation was a result of straight-line winds.
“I don’t think it was straight-line winds,” Mary said. “It would have knocked over all of the trees. Some of the trees were twisted.”
At one point, James and Mary lived in the trailer at a different location. They did not have insurance for the items in the unit, which was later used for storage, which shifted 15 feet during the storm. Currently, the couple is trying to recover and have received help from William and Brandy Williams. They assisted with sawing tree branches, so they can remove their cars.
James remembers going through Hurricane Fran in 1996, but Monday’s storm was personally worse when it came to damage.
“I have never seen anything like this,” he said while standing in the remains. “It’s unbelievable that we’re still here. I just thank God.”