As a tornado approached a family’s home in Missouri, three young sisters huddled together in a bathroom for safety. The moment was captured in a photo, with 9-year-old Annistyn Rackley in the bathtub, clutching her favorite doll.
Sadly, it was the last photo the little girl would ever take.
Minutes later, the home was obliterated by a tornado, one of dozens that ripped through several states in the South and Midwest in a catastrophic weather event over the weekend.
Annistyn, a third grader and cheerleader who loved to dance, was killed. Her two sisters were injured.
The family had just moved into their new home only 10 days ago and hadn’t even finished unpacking when the tornado struck. The photo of the girls had been sent to a family member before the storm to reassure her that everyone was taking shelter.
“I’m so glad that I had time with her. I’m glad that she was in my life. She loved me, and I loved her,” the girls’ aunt, Sandra Hookers, said.
As people hard hit by the wave of tornados rebuild their lives, an extraordinary effort is underway to reunite them with thousands of lost personal mementos and animals blown away by the storm.
Amanda Pope found a dog with a pink collar near her home in Trumann, Arkansas. The town took a direct hit from a tornado.
“Everybody had shared her on Facebook. I called the police station. I’ve called the Humane Society here, and nobody has reported her missing,” Pope said.
Lynne Trotter, who lives 160 miles from the worst-hit city of Mayfield, Kentucky, found a picture of a handsome young man and his pretty companion. On the back was written “Troy Weaver, Prom, April 1986.”
Troy Weaver passed away in 2009, but Trotter was able to trace his son through a Facebook group. Trotter said she is sending the photo back to him.
“When you don’t have anything it’s kind of a little bit of a bright spot to return something,” Trotter said
Brad Hale also found a torn photo. On the back was written Ruby Tucker in Aug. 1981. He traced Ruby’s great-granddaughter, Stephanie. It had blown 120 miles.
“Those people who lost everything, it means the world to them to have a little bit of their home back, so thank you Brad,” Stephanie said.
In Mayfield, Inside Edition spoke to Jim Douglas, who worked at the candle factory where eight of his colleagues lost their lives.
“I did a lot of praying — praying for God to get me out of there. And after I was in pain for a couple hours, my prayer changed to, ‘God, just take me. I’m ready to go home,’ ‘cause it just hurt so bad,” Douglas said.
Hundreds of Mayfield residents who are now homeless are taking shelter inside a church in a nearby town.
Anthony Vasquez survived with his girlfriend and baby son by hiding in a closet as his house was demolished.
“We just took off to the closet, closed the door and just kind of huddled with each other and held each other tight,” Vasquez said.
And in the midst of devastation and suffering, one local resident played the piano surrounded by the wreckage of what was once his home.
Early estimates of the cost of the damage caused by the tornadoes is estimated to be roughly $18 billion.