Wetumpka tornado

File / The Herald

The tornado on Jan. 19, 2019 destroyed structures in Wetumpka. Wetumpka resident Edwin Sanford's home was destroyed but his family is close to feeling the way life was before, he said.

Edwin Sanford said he would not be alive if he remained at home for four more minutes on Jan. 19, 2019.

“If I had waited at my house just a few more minutes and heard the warning, I could not have made it from my house to the church,” Sanford said. “(The tornado) would have got me.”

The home he and his wife, Cathy, owned sat 60 feet from that church — First Baptist Church of Wetumpka. Cathy is the preschool minister at the church. She was installing safety gates with two of her grandchildren as Edwin watched television.

“We did not have a clue the weather was going to get that bad,” Edwin Sanford said. “Once I got into the church, the alarms went off on Fox and WSFA. An alarm went off at the church telling us to find a safe place.”

He said the tornado lasted no more than five seconds.

“The windows shook,” Sanford said. “The building did not falter. It stayed right there. Then it got real quiet and the bell tower (at First Presbyterian Wetumpka) fell; the bell fell out into the street. I went outside, looked and saw the damage.”

The home, which Sanford was born in 75 years ago, was destroyed.

“The house was ripped off its foundation,” he said. “We tried to save stuff. I slept in that house for two nights. The only thing that was up in it were walls. There was no roof where I was sleeping. I have valuables and I had to stay there two nights until we could get that straight. I lost just about everything.”

Sanford credited God for sparing his life and said it was a miracle to have his family, friends and the community help with the recovery effort that followed.

“It was just a miracle what went on from there with the goodness of everyone in Wetumpka,” Sanford said. “It was amazing all the people were coming in. By the next day, everything was cleared out. I had a 40-foot and two 20-foot containers and started loading my house.

“When I stood there and looked at our house I thought I could do it all by myself. I am used to doing things by myself. It really took a while to realize I could not do it without God’s help, my family’s help, my friends’ help and the community.”

He considers his wife and daughter-in-laws as the anchors of the family.

“I cannot give them enough credit,” he said. “Cathy, Tina and Lindsey are the backbone of my family.”

As the days progressed, Sanford said he originally planned to rebuild on the same property. It was his wife and Wynn, one of his two sons, who advised him to move.

As for now, Sanford said he and his wife are close to feeling like their life back to the way it was before the tornado struck Wetumpka nearly a year ago.

“We found a good place to live and we are settling in,” he said. “Really and truly it has not felt like home yet, but it’s getting that way. We are about 80% back to normal.” 

The new home includes 12 acres of land. Sanford said keeping up with the property and caring for farm animals has helped him settle into a new way of life. 

“I had to get two donkeys to help me with the land,” he said. “We also have three goats and a rooster and two chickens. I guess I’m a real farmer now. It is a relief and relaxation.”

He said one of the biggest challenges he’s experienced since the tornado is taking on debt.

“I managed my money well,” he said. “I didn’t have any payments. Everything was paid for. Now, I have payments. I had to buy a new house, new equipment. Everything has changed.”

Sanford, retired from Alabama Power, is a pecan farmer and runs a bush hog. He said the storm destroyed most all of this equipment.

“I had tractors, bush hogs and landscaping rakes — whatever it takes to keep your orchard going,” Sanford said. “I had to dig one tractor out. It would crank; it just did not look good going down the road. I got that fixed.”

Sanford said support is what ultimately got his family through this devastating event.

“Thank God for my children, their friends and the community” he said. “I cannot get over standing in my backyard and looking at my house. All the sudden here come people from Wetumpka High School, people from Edgewood Academy, Church of Christ and other churches. I cannot express and explain how everything works except it’s God’s hand.”