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Tornado survivor: Words of love, then impact

From Susan Candiotti and Ross Levitt, CNN
updated 5:50 PM EDT, Sat March 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A powerful tornado struck the town of Henryville in southern Indiana
  • Wayne and Lenora Hunter recorded its approach March 2
  • She recalls their last words to each other moments before impact
  • Her husband was a retired ER nurse

Henryville, Indiana (CNN) -- Standing side-by-side behind the front window of their home, Lenora Hunter and her husband, Wayne, shot videos of the powerful tornado barreling toward this southern Indiana town.

The images and sound of the couple talking with each other have taken on a decidedly tragic air since the March 2 EF4 twister -- with sustained winds of between 166 mph and 200 mph -- moved through Clark County.

"It was my last time with him," Lenora Hunter told CNN.

Wayne Hunter, 62, did not survive the storm. He was among 39 killed, 13 of them in Indiana, by a powerful Midwest and Southern storm system.

Amazingly, the Hunters' cameras survived the powerful winds that flattened their home. Lenora Hunter shared the dramatic footage publicly for the first time with CNN.

"I always wanted to see a tornado, but not like that. That was huge, huge," she said.

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Wayne wasn't particularly a fan of storms, but Lenora, 59, was.

"We watched 'Twister' (the movie) quite a bit," she said. "I could quote practically all of it."

But this twister was the real thing.

The Hunters, married 41 years, are heard on the video describing the tornado heading their way. Lenora Hunter says it wasn't clear at first that it would stay on course toward their home.

Then things changed.

"It looks like it's heading right toward us," Wayne Hunter is heard telling his wife.

"Maybe we should get away from the window," she replies.

Her husband utters an expletive under his breath and laughs nervously as they describe the tornado's funnel changing colors and picking up more debris.

"We'll need to close the window. I've got to close the door," Lenora Hunter says.

"Oh my gosh," she says breathlessly.

The tape on her camera then cuts off.

At that point, Hunter said, the couple ran to the center of their single-story home, which had no basement. "It was time."

Her husband grabbed his wallet and she grabbed her purse. "They're going to know who I am," she recalled thinking.

"I was still cracking jokes. We were going to be OK. I kept telling him we'll be fine."

"We hunkered down. Put the blanket over us. We had arms around each other," Lenora Hunter said Friday, her voice breaking, as she showed CNN how the couple crouched and held each other tightly.

"He said 'I love you.' I said, 'I love you, too.'"

They were the couple's last words to each other.

Lenora Hunter describes hearing a roar and her ears popping. Then she blacked out. "I remember waking up and yelling, screaming, 'Help us!'" she said.

"I mean my whole body, it was like I was just crushed. And I couldn't see anything," says Hunter.

Neighbors Cole Belcher and Michael Sipe heard sounds like a baby crying. They found Lenora Hunter.

"All you could see was her head and a bunch of blood," said Belcher. The woman was badly bruised, but suffered no broken bones.

"We just knew we needed to get her out of there somehow," Sipe said.

But, first, they found Wayne Hunter.

He was lying next to his wife, covered by a refrigerator.

"I remember shaking his arm saying, 'Wayne, Wayne,' and he never responded," Belcher said.

'I said, 'Is he (Wayne) OK?," Lenora Hunter recalled. "He (Belcher) said, 'No, ma'am,' which was the perfect answer, because I wouldn't have wanted someone to say, 'Well, I think he'll be OK.' I saw him. And I knew."

As softball-sized hail landed, Sipe took Lenora Hunter by the hand, covered her head with a roasting pan, and led her to safety.

While sitting on the concrete steps that used to lead to her front door, Hunter cried softly as she recalled another section of their final home videos.

On the tape, Lenora initially sounds excited as the tornado approaches.

"I have never seen one. I finally get to see one," she tells Wayne.

"Maybe the last one I see," she tells him. Wayne laughs and replies, "That's true."

As she recalled those recorded words, Lenora buried her head in her hands and cried. "It was. It was for Wayne."

Wayne Hunter, a retired emergency room nurse, served in the Army and was stationed in Korea during the Vietnam War, according to his son, Rodney.

Wayne's widow intends to rebuild in the same spot where their home once stood and where the couple planned to enjoy the rest of their retirement. The residence will include a basement.

"This is our home. And it will be my home forever," Lenora Hunter told CNN.

She has the support of her two grown children and grandchildren -- and says her faith will pull her through.

"I will make it. Sometimes it's hard, but I'm going to be OK."

Lenora Hunter dabs her eyes. "I'm gonna miss him. A whole lot."

CNN Photojournalist Jung Park contributed to the story.

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