Quick to action: Swift thinking saves lives of George and Gayle Nix

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

Buried underneath the rubble of their own home after it was displaced and crumbled by a tornado on Thursday, March 25, Gayle and George Nix didn’t know if they would see the light of day again.

At the same time, Casey Crumpton was on the way from his grandparents’ house to the trailer park across from their property after seeing the destructive path the EF3 tornado left. That’s when he looked to his right and realized the double wide Gayle and George lived in was gone.

Crumpton immediately changed course and sprinted down the hill toward the wreckage that was previously a home.

“I was sprinting. When I saw their trailer, the weight of it hit me a little bit. I had to stop and walk a little bit and gather myself. It was so bad,” Crumpton said. “I thought if anybody was there, I was going to find a dead body. I had to take a minute and prepare myself before taking off again.”

At first Crumpton didn’t think anyone would be in the trailer, but as soon as he reached the disintegrated house, he started hollering for George.

Then, he quickly realized he was wrong when he heard the faint sound of a voice.

“I could hear him, but I couldn’t see him,” Crumpton said. “Then, I found him and dug him out. He was probably 3 or 4 feet deep under what used to be his living room. He was awake and conscious but in shock. I got him out and sat him down.”

Casey’s brothers Nathan and Clint and parents Susan and Gary Crumpton were also there by this point.

“We didn’t know if anyone else was there and didn’t know his wife’s name so we asked George and that’s when he told us Gayle was with him,” Nathan said.

The group immediately started yelling Gayle’s name but with rain still falling and the animals on the farm making noise from the storm as well, they got nothing in response.

Then, in a moment of calmness, it became quiet and they heard soft call for help from under the mountain of debris.

“I started digging but dug in wrong spot at first,” Nathan said. “We ended up digging again near where George was found. She ended up being deeper down than him right next to where he was in a pocket.”

Casey said she was close to 7 feet under the rubble in an area with their dogs, but she was bent over a 2×4 beam.

“My dad turned her over so she could breathe. We got her out and then held her,” Casey said.

Because of the storm, however, there was no way for emergency crews to get down to them due to the debris and trees cluttering any clear path along both Alston Farm Road and County Road 30.

Johnny Howard with the Columbiana Fire Department and Mark Bray with Southeast Shelby Rescue had gotten in to help.

The Crumptons knew they were going to have to transport George and Gayle to have any chance of getting them to an ambulance quickly, so they found doors that were blown off from the tornado and carried them through mounds of debris and trees to a Polaris Ranger ATV where they could wait to be loaded into an ambulance.

Their mom, Susan, and one other sat with Gayle on the back of the Polaris to keep her awake following the trauma because she kept trying to doze off.

After Gayle and George were in a position to wait for ambulances to arrive, the guys took off sprinting toward the trailer park thinking it could have been just as bad or worse.

“Once we got them out, I took off for the trailer park. We finally got through all of the debris and stuff blocking the way, and I got to one of the kids who goes to Shelby County High School,” Casey said. “He told me everybody was alright. I kept checking with them, but nobody was injured. It was amazing they were all OK with the damage they had.”

In addition to that, Nathan and Amber Crumpton live off of Mooney Road, which Amber heard was also in bad shape. She wife then called him and said their house may not even be there.

So after helping pull Gayle and George from the rubble and trekking through the debris, he sprinted up the hill to meet his father-in-law so they could get over to Mooney Road to check on their home.

Nathan and Amber’s house ended up being salvaged from the storm aside from some trees down, but several neighbors on the road didn’t have the same fortune.

“It looked like a warzone on Deborah drive, like a bomb went off,” Nathan said. “I couldn’t really see the houses with all the trees that fell down. It was just a big mess.”

An hour earlier, Nathan and his brothers watched as the tornado barreled over the mountain across Gibson Farm Road and toward County Road 30 before they all sprinted inside to huddle around their families.

In tears and praying as the roaring tornado passed by, they were only at their parents’ house to get protection from the storm in their basement. They didn’t know by being there, they would end up right next door to the worst of the devastating tornado, nor did they expect to be running 200 yards to save the lives of two neighbors shortly after.

But their quick and selfless actions helped save the lives of George and Gayle Nix.

“We all stood outside praying over the people and our husbands, wondering if everyone was okay,” said Nathan’s wife Amber Crumpton. “We all eventually got in touch with them and got info on what was going on.”

Both remain in the hospital recovering from their injuries after being placed in the Intensive Care Unit at UAB Hospital, and the families continue to ask for prayers for their recovery.

They also run a horse farm called G&G Paso Fino Farms and Rescue and have several animals that roam the farm. Some animals did have to be put down on site immediately following the tornadoes, but most ended up surviving.

If you would like to help with rebuilding their farm and giving the animals the necessary care they need, you can donate here.

“The whole thing is just a blessing,” Casey said. “There is no other way around how they survived that.”

Since the tornadoes ripped through, the Crumptons and others from Columbiana have come together as a community to help those in need through physical labor of moving trees and debris, to donating food and finding places to sleep and shower for those who need it.

“The biggest thing is as a whole, everybody in the community is doing exactly what you’re supposed to do,” Casey said. “I’ve been extremely proud of the people in the community, the schools and what the churches have done. These types of situations always bring out the best in people. You put your differences aside and just go help people. It’s good to see that. I’m really proud of this community.”

Nathan and Amber reiterated that sentiment and said they want to make sure people help Gayle and George in any way that they can.

“They would have suffocated under the weight of what they were under,” Amber said. “It’s a miracle they were able to get them out.”