Man describes holding onto wife as tornado closes in on home

Man describes holding onto wife as tornado closes in on home

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The most powerful tornado on record in Orleans Parish ripped lives apart, but miraculously, no one was killed. And we're learning more incredible stories of survival.

The images of destruction on Evangeline street make you catch your breath - gnarled debris, damaged roofs and houses collapsed. Donald Wheeler and his wife were inside his New Orleans East home tracking the tornadoes when they heard an explosion outside.

"I open the door to see what the noise was, and I looked over and across, and seeing the tornado come in between the neighbor's yard there and his roof, which is twirling over the house," Wheeler said. "They're going over to his home, so I grabbed her. Before I got to the bathroom, then [it] hit the home and snatched the entire roof up. And I was trying to hold on to my wife, she was trying to hold onto the wall, and the little dog was just on her own, I guess. And he just took it, and she just screamed and I'll never forget it. She just screamed where my ears are still ringing from that."

With the walls caving in around him, Wheeler said he struggled to keep his grip as his home crumbled beneath the fury of Mother Nature, burying years of memories inside.

"My fingerprints are in the wall from trying to hold onto her in the wall," Wheeler said. "The same time we were like this here, and if it lasted just two seconds later, we would've been out, we would've been out that house two seconds more because I couldn't hold on no longer."

Once the storm passed, his mind shifted to Nola, his pet Chihuahua that had been sucked into the vortex.

"That's like losing a child," Wheeler said. "I was taught some people are just silly when they say, 'That's my baby' - a damn animal is my baby. But after this, I realize what they're talking about. That thing is my heart. Anything that happens to her is like something happened to me."

By some miracle, a neighbor found Nola and reunited the little pup with her family. Now she won't leave Wheeler's side.

"It took her three blocks from here and ain't a scratch on that dog," Wheeler said. "Now you tell me I don't believe in Jesus!"

On this street, the view may be grim, but through it, though, some find a way to keep living, keep playing. For Donald Wheeler, it's home. He's not moving. He'll rebuild, but the reality of the storm that took aim at his family is still hard to comprehend.

"Ha, man, I can't even think about it," he said. "Look at it - that's crazy. We were sitting right there, almost lost my mind, man, almost lost my mind. Lose my house and my wife in the same day? Don't want to go through that again. Never again."

Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.