PANAMA CITY, Fla. – When Erika Van Sweringen awoke from her nap Friday evening, all she could hear was wind whipping at the sides of her Panama City home and items falling around her.
Van Sweringen and her two dogs ran to the kitchen to take shelter, while her friend, Lisa, took shelter in a bathroom.
Van Sweringen said she did not at first realize that her house was in the air.
PANAMA CITY STORM UPDATES:NWS specialists on their way to confirm twister strike
“It was scary,” Van Sweringen said Saturday. “It was unreal.”
On Friday evening, a suspected tornado tore through the historic St. Andrews community in Panama City, leaving a path of damaged homes and vehicles, scattered debris and shaken residents in its wake.
The National Weather Service issued tornado watches for parts of Florida, Alabama and Georgia on Friday morning. There were also reports of a possible tornado in Atmore, Alabama, where a Friday storm injured six people and damaged mobile homes, local media reported.
As of Saturday morning, Van Sweringen, a Panama City resident since she was 16 years old, said she had been aware of the tornado threat and was paying attention to the radio. However, she did not give it too much thought and laid down for a nap with her two dogs.
When she awoke, Van Sweringen said she heard the sound of freight trains and knew something was terribly wrong.
Taking her dogs to the kitchen, she felt like Dorothy, describing the famous scene from the “Wizard of Oz.”
“I felt weightless because it was, I mean, it was shaking and we were weightless,” Van Sweringen said. “I was holding onto the kitchen cabinets and then it just slammed us back down and then it went away. It was quiet.”
Once the storm had passed, Van Sweringen and her friend made sure they were OK, then tried to make their way to survey the damage.
She described it as though a bomb had gone off.
The house was lifted off its risers and moved several feet in the air, leaving the front and back steps no longer in alignment with her porches. The added-on bathroom is no longer attached to her house. Her furniture and other items litter her lawn and those of her neighbors, with Van Sweringen trying to locate her missing items.
“Everything just moved. We had a whole bunch of stuff out here, it’s gone,” Van Sweringen said. “We had a rocking chair on the front porch that went through the neighbor’s shed over there.”
MORE PHOTOS:Heavy damage reported in St. Andrews area following Friday storm
Van Sweringen said she was also in Panama City when Category 5 Hurricane Michael hit, causing 16 deaths and about $25 billion in damage in the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Van Sweringen said she has been through a lot in the past couple years.
“I can’t catch a break. Hurricane Michael, then I have long COVID and it took my vision and I got that back finally,” Van Sweringen said. “Now I got it, COVID, again. My ears are a mess. It’s just a mess. I can’t catch a break, but I know it’ll be OK. God put me through this for a reason and I’m strong enough to handle it. So, there’s a reason for everything.”
Van Sweringen said she does not know her what her next steps will be.
‘EXTENSIVE DAMAGE’:Suspected tornado reported in St. Andrews
“I am going to be homeless,” Van Sweringen said. “And I’ve got no family, and I don’t know what we’re going to do. I have no idea. That’s the worst part.”
She said she is working with the American Red Cross to find temporary housing. She said she is also thankful for neighbors, who have come to her aid.
“Hurricane Michael kind of helped us because it was like, all right, we’ve been through this kind of thing before, so they’ve definitely banded together,” Van Sweringen said. “It’s not ideal, but I know we’ll make it.”
Van Sweringen said she’s taking it one day at a time.
“It’s in God’s hands, and I’m not scared,” Van Sweringen said. “I’m a little nervous, but he’s never let me down before. So, I have to have faith.”
Contributing: Christine Fernando, USA TODAY