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Mom gets credit for helping save the day

Future bride and groom take cover, avoid tornado in Panhandle

By Marsha Walton

Chris Ammons, left, and Santana Sullivan missed a tornado spawned by Hurricane Ivan that touched down in Calhoun County, Florida.
Hurricane Ivan

BLOUNTSTOWN, Florida (CNN) -- Santana Sullivan and her fiancé, Chris Ammons, picked through piles of debris that used to be their mobile home in the Florida Panhandle's rural Calhoun County.

A tornado spawned by Hurricane Ivan killed neighbors and destroyed their home.

"We're getting married in 2 1/2 weeks. Our rings were in the house," Sullivan said Thursday.

Ammons credits his future mother-in-law, Janet Fettinger, with saving his life.

"She's a worrywart," Ammons said.

Sullivan adds, "We were going to stay home. We weren't going to go anywhere because we thought we were going to be all right. But my mom talked us into going to Marianna and staying with her.

"She just said, 'You're crazy if you stay in that house. You're not safe.' "

Fettinger said being a mother sometimes means putting your foot down.

"My kids are my life," she said. "My other daughter Stella works at a hospital, and I knew she'd be safe there."

But she said she had a bad feeling about Santana and Ammons.

She finally convinced the couple to leave their home Wednesday evening. They rode out the hurricane in Marianna, a town north of Blountsdown.

Ammons found out about the loss of his home when he showed up for work at 5 a.m. Thursday at Spanish Trail Lumber. His co-workers were talking about the deaths and destruction. He soon realized it was his neighborhood.

Ammons and his fiancée returned to what had been their home at daylight. They began picking through the rubble without much success.

"Now we're here to salvage, save what we can save, find what we can find," Ammons said.

Ammons and Sullivan dig through the remains of their home Thursday.

Sullivan's cousin, Alice Tharp, helped the couple recover a few items.

"We got them a few clothes. That's all we got," Tharp said. "They had gifts. They had already had a [wedding] shower. There's nothing left."

Tharp also dodged a bullet Wednesday when a tornado swept through her neighborhood about 20 miles from Blountstown.

"My husband and my daughter and I were in the tub with two mattresses on top of us," Tharp said.

"I was calling my oldest daughter to tell her I loved her and to kiss my grandbaby."

No one was hurt, and the house sustained no major damage.

As for the soon-to-be bride and groom, Sullivan said the wedding is still on for October 2.

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