Tammy Brawner is a geometry and pre-calculus teacher at Macon County High School. Her husband, Phillip Brawner, is Superintendent of the Gas Department here in the City of Lafayette.
On Tuesday night, February 5th, when a deadly tornado slammed Macon County with winds up to 180 mph, they lost everything they owned. Their lives were spared, but both were injured, Tammy severely.
The Brawners' incredible story of faith and survival began on a day that was just like any other normal day.
“I got to school that morning at 7:00,” said Tammy, “because I always like to get there early. I think we had a test on Wednesday, so I'm pretty sure I spent the day reviewing my students.”
Late that afternoon they ate a Mexican supper in Hartsville. “Since it's just Phillip and me now, I don't cook much anymore,” Tammy laughed, “so we eat out a lot.”
It was a typical night in the Brawner household. After exercising, Tammy took her tennis shoes off and sat down on the love seat with Rocco, their 60 lb. bull terrier, in her lap. She was watching the weather on TV and Phillip had fallen asleep on the couch.
“I was watching Channel 4 and they didn't say anything about the tornado coming toward us in the Green Grove Community,” Tammy recalled, “they were talking about it hitting that college in Jackson.”
But then her sister, Tina Dies, called to warn Tammy about the approaching storm and asked if she had a safe place to get to.
“I immediately woke Phillip up and we were both standing there watching the report on television when the current went off. We quickly headed to the bathroom adjacent to the master bedroom and before we could even shut the door, the house lifted up off the foundation and there was absolutely nothing we could do.”
“So, I bent down to protect Rocco,” Tammy explained, “and Phillip bent down to shield me and that's the last thing I remember until I awoke next to my husband. We were lying atop a concrete pad that once housed a big garage 100 ft. behind our house.”
Phillip, who had remained conscious, spoke of being lifted in the air, tossed around and being hit by debris coming in every direction.
“The only corner of that garage floor that wasn't covered with 2x4's, glass, and destroyed vehicles, was where we landed,” Tammy said with a look of wonder in her eyes. “God was definitely watching over us.”
Phillip tried to carry Tammy to safety, but his shoulder was hurt and he couldn't lift her.
“If he had picked me up, it probably would have killed me,” Tammy said.
But he did manage to slowly ease Tammy up on her feet and noticing the fire coming from the Columbia Gulf gas plant, they began running down the road to Maybell Cothron's house, their closest neighbor.
Tammy could “feel” something wrong with her and remembers trying to be extremely careful, keeping her neck straight while running.
“I looked at Phillip and he was covered with blood,” Tammy said with an anguished look. “Then I glanced down at my hand and it looked like something in a horror movie. It was tore all to pieces. I thought there is no way this is happening. It's got to be a very bad nightmare and surely I will wake up.”
When they got to Maybell's, she was stunned by their appearance. They were both covered in blood and dirt, and all she could see were their eyes. But she somehow managed to get them to the Emergency Room here in Lafayette, even though the roads were virtually impassable.
“God bless Maybell,” Tammy said, “she still struggles to sleep due to the vivid image of our faces that night as she drove us to the hospital.”
Later that night, Tammy was taken by ambulance to Sumner Regional Medical Center and Phillip was taken to Hendersonville Hospital.
Tammy's injuries were so extensive that doctors said there is no medical explanation for how she was physically able to run for help without being paralyzed or even killed. She had sustained a broken neck at the 1st and 5th vertebra, a broken pinkie, several contusions on her head, along with a concussion, the loss of her ring finger on her left hand, numerous stitches and staples, and two puncture wounds on her right calf.
Phillip's injuries consisted of cuts on his head and hands, several stitches and removal of glass from his back. He was released from the hospital the next day.
“They operated on my hand on Wednesday, February 6th and the following Monday, they removed glass from my scalp,” said Tammy. “But they decided not to operate on my calf to remove glass because they feared it would cause muscle damage. They hope it will work its way out.”
Tammy and Phillip grieved over their beloved dog, Rocco, who vanished that night after the tornado.
“Rocco is an inside dog,” commented Tammy. “He went outside to use the bathroom and came right back in. He had never lived on his own and with hardly any fur we didn't think he could have survived that 13 degree temperature we had a couple of nights after the tornado.”
Phillip, who had been struggling since the 1990's with a call to preach, decided to pray for their dog's safe return. And if Rocco was found, he would know he was called to the ministry and would fulfill the Lord's request.
One week later, on Tuesday afternoon, the Brawners' neighbors from across the street called Phillip at the hospital where he was staying with Tammy. They said, “Your dog is sitting where your house once stood.”
“I didn't believe it until Phillip got there,” said Tammy, “and he called me back and said, ‘It's Rocco, I've got my arms around him'.”
Phillip Brawner preached his first sermon at Sycamore Valley Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, March 16th.
Tammy, who is the daughter of Pat and Jimmy Shrum, spent two weeks in the hospital and stayed home for another week to regain her strength. She returned to teaching the first week in March, but she is still recovering.
Phillip's parents, Wayne and Doris Brawner, lost their home also in the tornado, but thankfully, they were not injured.
“God is why we made it,” Tammy said. “Maybell was supposed to take us to the hospital and Columbia Gulf did what it was supposed to do - it burned, but didn't explode. And because of the glow from the fire, a lot of people saw the tornado coming and took shelter. And God led Rocco back to where our house once stood to give my husband the assurance he needed to join the ministry.”
Tammy and Phillip want to thank everyone for being so kind to them, and also for the calls, cards, money, concern, and most of all, the prayers. They would also like to thank Genear Carter for allowing them to stay in her home.
The Brawners are rebuilding on that site, as it is where they have lived for their entire marriage.