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Millbrook restaurant sheltered customers inside freezer during tornado

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 10:58 PM CDT
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MILLBROOK, Ala. (WSFA) - Plenty of Alabamians hunkered down during Tuesday’s severe weather, but not a lot of people can say they took shelter inside of a restaurant.

“It was not the way that we thought that we would be celebrating our anniversary that night,” said customer Leslie Cox.

Tuesday, a confirmed EF1 tornado tore through parts of Prattville and Millbrook. Most of the damage was along Cobbs Ford Road, which is right where the restaurant Catfish House sits.

What was supposed to be a typical night out for the 79 people there, quickly became a terrifying situation when mother nature decided to make a visit.

“The wind kind of picked up but then out of nowhere it just, it got really bad,” said Catfish House employee Celina Watson. “The trees were like almost touching the ground, you know, when the wind got really bad and limbs were flying everywhere and then the doors flew open and when the doors flew open that’s when all the customers got up.”

As things began to escalate, employees took action and began moving customers into the kitchen and walk-in freezer.

“You could physically feel the windows like they were about to cave in,” said Catfish House employee Amber Ley Warren. “I started yelling, ‘We need to get in the cooler,’ and then all of a sudden I just turned back around and all the customers were trying to get away from the windows so their first place (to go) was to come back in the kitchen.”

Warren said staff and customers were inside the freezer taking shelter for about 10 to 15 minutes before the storm began to calm down.

“We had people everywhere packed in until we could get out safely,” Warren said standing inside the freezer.

“It seemed almost like a school fire drill,” said customer Daniel Lounsberry. “Everybody just got up and calmly walked into the back of the kitchen.”

Although it was only minutes, Cox said, “you really realize how precious life is and how it can change in a moment’s notice.”

Thankfully, aside from fallen trees and minor damage to the restaurants back office building, everyone was OK. Customers that were at the restaurant that night said they were grateful for the Catfish House staff for going above and beyond to make sure everyone was safe.

“That night, they went above and beyond the call of duty,” Cox said. “The crew here did an excellent job in getting us to safety.”

“They must have done some kind of disaster training or something like that because it seemed like it was routine,” Lounsberry said. “They did a really good job.”

The employees said the customers always come first, no matter what.

“They by all means come first,” Watson said.

“You know, even if we looked funny yelling and nothing happened, we were doing what we thought we should,” Warren said. “So I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just to stay prepared.”

Customers and staff said after the storm, the portion of Cobbs Ford road where the restaurant is located, was blocked with fallen trees and downed power lines for nearly an hour before they could return home.

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