Couple escapes after crashing tree traps them inside home

October 9, 2016
By KATHLEEN FOODY and RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – Karen Cribbs and her husband felt fortunate to escape with their life after being trapped inside a battered southeastern Georgia home during Hurricane Matthew.

While standing outside their home in Savannah on Sunday morning, Cribbs stared at the tree that crashed through the house’s roof and front door. She and her husband, Wilbur, 60, were trapped for hours.

“We have life,” Karen Cribbs, 59, said calmly, then pointed toward the house. “That can be replaced.”

Residents of Georgia’s coast on Sunday looked for signs of normalcy and began assessing damage left by the storm, an often chaotic pattern that left some beachfront properties untouched but felled trees that took the lives of three people. The direst fears of local officials didn’t develop, but the storm still raked Georgia’s 100-mile coastline and left plenty of damage behind.

At the Cribbs’ home in southeast Savannah, the tree that once stood high above their house splintered at the trunk and crashed down into the dark gray shingled roof and white siding just after 4:30 a.m. Saturday. The couple found themselves “pinned in” by sheet rock and roof beams that had been crushed by the large trunk and canopy.

Both were able to make their way to a hallway in the center of the house, where they stayed in a bathroom lit with flashlights until 7 a.m. when they called their son, also named Wilbur, who lives down the street.

Wilbur, 33, walked behind the house, located on a corner lot, and shouldered his way in through the back door. The couple’s other son Chris, 28, slept through the whole thing in a bedroom at the back of the house.

“All we could do was try to dig our way out and try to get to safety,” Karen Cribbs said.

Neither was seriously injured.

Three people died in Georgia, their deaths connected to harsh weather brought on by the storm.

Jefferson A. Davis, 41, died in his bed after a large pine tree crashed through the roof and onto him, said Chatham County coroner Dr. William Wessinger.

Davis’ neighbors Joe Brettschneider and Jason Justice said they got text messages from Davis’ wife asking them to check on her husband and found the tree had fallen on the back of the house. Davis’ wife immediately knew it had hit the bedroom, they said. The three neighbors stayed back together when their families left town.

“Not worth it,” Jason Justice said. “Not worth it. This is a prime example. Everything can be replaced but that can’t, you know. And he’s got two little kids. And I’m mad at myself for doing what I did for staying, you know.”

Bulloch County deputy coroner Richard Pylant said Matthew Ward and James Altman died Saturday morning. Ward, 28, died when his car slammed into a tree, while Altman, 68, was home alone and killed when he was struck in the head after two trees fell on his home.

For residents without damage, life began to regain some normalcy despite much of Savannah remaining without electricity.

In downtown Savannah, scattered restaurants and other businesses opened their doors including a local brewery where people sipped drinks and watched big-screen TVs. At Forsyth Park several blocks away, people played tennis and touch football. Others stretched out blankets and lay in the bright sun while runners and bikers skirted fallen trees still blocking some sidewalks.

Stores began to reopen and people stood in line for ice and groceries as if it were the Black Friday kickoff to holiday shopping. Local radio stations shared re-openings of gas stations and took calls from people looking for advice on routes to return south.

More than 150 people stood in line Sunday afternoon outside a Kroger supermarket on Savannah’s suburban south side, waiting for the store to open.

Debbie Berta said she had been waiting more than an hour to get propane gas for her grill. She said she also wanted “bread, potatoes, eggs – and a piece of sanity.”

Chad Schultz was near the front of the line and said he had been there two hours.

His shopping list: ice, bread and beer.

“The essentials, you know, just some stuff that doesn’t spoil in the fridge.”

Schultz said his apartment was without power and he was preparing to spend days in the dark, “There are just so many trees and wires down,” he said.

President Barack Obama declared Georgia a disaster area after Hurricane Matthew battered the southeast area of the state. Obama signed the declaration late Saturday to free up federal aid to help recovery efforts in counties including Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh.

Georgia Power says about 190,000 homes and businesses on the coast are still without electricity. The bulk of the outages remain in Chatham County, which has more than 109,000.


Associated Press reporters Johnny Clark and Jonathan Landrum Jr. in Atlanta contributed to this report.