LAS VEGAS (WVUE) - The EF-3 tornado that ripped through New Orleans East, devouring homes and turning lives upside down for miles, was a monster. An unforgiving beast that left families feeling broken, pushed houses off their foundations, and shredded business to pieces, it seemed surviving a direct hit would take a miracle.
"I can't describe how strong it was, and it upsets me to even think about it because I still, a year later, don't know how I held on or held onto the car seat. I don't know," said Amanda Stockfelt, who survived the tornado while clutching her 2-month-old daughter.
Stockfelt still holds her daughter, Autumn, close when she hears a strong wind blow.
It was one year ago when she was inside a work trailer in New Orleans East with Autumn before a doctor's appointment when she and her co-worker heard the tornado coming. Without thinking, she buckled Autumn into her car seat and hid beneath a desk, but moments later the tornado swallowed the trailer whole.
"The windows shattered, we heard the metal ripping off the trailer, the trailer flipped over backward. It sent Leanne backward, me on top of her, the car seat on top of me, and the desk on top of all of us," Stockfelt said. "[Leanne] was able to hold onto a ladder. I couldn't hold on to anything but Autumn's car seat. I wasn't going to. I literally saw her in her car seat above my head, and I had sneakers on that day. We never found my tennis shoes. it literally sucked the tennis shoes off my feet."
Stockfelt thinks she fell around 30 feet once the tornado dropped her and her child, holding on to her baby in the car seat the entire time.
The force that sucked the shoes off her feet tore cars apart and ripped metal frames like matchsticks, but it couldn't separate the mother from her daughter. Somehow, Stockfelt found an unmatched strength and she wouldn't let go.
"You know, people that hear the story or have seen it come talk to me, 'Great thinking, great plan!' There was no plan, there was no thinking, there was no time, I had to do something," Stockfelt said.
Now, a year later, Stockfelt is still dealing with the effects of surviving the violence of the vortex. She's diagnosed with PTSD and bound to physical therapy three times a week to heal injuries from the storm.
She decided to move to Las Vegas to be closer to family, but the terror of that day hasn't faded.
"I used to cry, I still sometimes will have panic attacks, but I'm the type of person that will turn a negative into a positive, and to me, it's like our second birthdays," Stockfelt said.
Reborn from the storm, she knows her daughter, whom she fought to save, is now saving her.
"The only way I can get through my panic attacks is Autumn," Stockfelt said. "She has done wonderfully. There's nothing wrong with her, there's no residual anything, she's hitting all her milestones, she's coming along great, she's almost learning how to walk, she's almost there."
In fact, after Stockfelt's story aired on FOX 8, the news went national. GRACO Baby products gave the family an entire line of baby gear, strangers from across the country donated thousands of dollars to get Stockfelt back on her feet, and little Autumn became somewhat of a sensation.
"There have been people here in Las Vegas that will ask, 'Is that the baby?' And I'm like, 'Yes that's the baby.' She's my little miracle baby," Stockfelt said.
A miracle baby, who still doesn't even know how special she is, something her mother can't wait to explain.
"She's going to have her own hard days. I'm gonna tell her, 'Baby you made it through this you can do anything,'" Stockfelt said.
Now she's hoping to resume a normal life, but physical therapy and her PTSD are a bit of an obstacle. Outside of Autumn's health, she's got one big wish: a job.
"I would like to go back to work. I know that sounds so mundane, everybody goes to work. I've always worked, I've worked since I was 16 years old," Stockfelt said. "I lost my job and my car and was severely injured all within a matter of minutes."
But she knows of all the things she lost, Autumn is still here. Despite the weight of so much - the constant reminders that trigger panic attacks, therapy, struggling through life without a job - she's got a reason to smile, a reason to survive, and a miracle in her arms every day.
"I can't afford to crawl up in a ball and just cry and feel sorry for myself. I have her to take care of so she gives me all the strength I need," Stockfelt said.