Saturday, April 10, 1999

Bengals coach: 'God's hand on me'

Robertses OK; home is gone

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Al Roberts, Bengals assistant coach, removes possessions from his house in Montgomery.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        First there was the wind. Then there was light. And then a strange, hurricane-like warmth. Then there was God. Al Roberts figures it took three, maybe four seconds.

        “God's hand was on me. I'll tell you that a thousand times,” said Mr. Roberts, the Bengals special-teams coach who survived the flying wedge of Friday's tornado.

        Mr. Roberts showed up at Spinney Field on Friday to shower and change. The only thing saved from his leveled Montgomery home at 7591 Lakewater Dr. was a clump of his wife's clothes.

        “Understand, there's nothing left,” he said. “The living room. Dining room. Kitchen. Gone. Upstairs there's three bedrooms, a hallway, a bathroom. Nothing. ... If you saw the house, you wouldn't know how we got out of there.”

        Lee and Jacqueline Cook, who lived directly behind Al and Arvella Roberts less than a block away at 7575 Cornell Road, didn't make it out. They died. Mr. Roberts figured they were thrown 25 to 30 yards from their home.

Lifted five feet
        The Robertses were thrown, too, when the winds sliced through Interstate 275 about 5 a.m. The rush of air woke Mr. Roberts, then he and Mrs. Roberts were lifted in the air about five feet across their bedroom. Mrs. Roberts landed first, Mr. Roberts followed as he began to pray. He uttered, “Father,” before the mattress landed on them.

        “I'm not a tornado guy. It felt warm, like a hurricane,” Mr. Roberts said. “I'm looking up at black sky. The whole roof is gone. Rain is coming down. I have to put my clothes on. I put my shirt on after there was some lightning and I saw it on the floor.”

        The Robertses slid through the debris on the shaky stairs and Mr. Roberts was stunned to see his wife struggling to open the front door.

        “I said, "Sweetheart, you don't have to worry about it. We can walk out the living room because there's no walls.'”

        When they got outside, they saw a mother and son in their night clothes and gave them two Bengals' jackets and each a shoe. Something had smashed his company car and nearly totalled it. The truck in the garage had a chimney on the roof.

Insurance battle looms
        By dinner time, Mr. Roberts was still trying to come down from the experience. His insurance company was trying to tell him he had no coverage, but Mr. Roberts was gearing up to fight because that was news to him.

Like a movie
        The news showed the devastation on TV and Mr. Roberts felt odd. “I thought I was watching (the movie) Twister. I didn't think it was me in there,” Mr. Roberts said.

        “That's the problem today. We get so desensitized.”

        Mr. Roberts, who plans to wear his Bengals garb until he gets a new wardrobe, was asked if he needed anything.

        “A returner,” he said.


Hope emerges from the rubble
Sirens worked, but some slept through
Families flew from their beds
- Bengals coach: 'God's hand on me'
Driver got upside-down trip on freeway median
Photographer encounters death, devastation
House is a cheap price to pay for life
Community safe, serene and vulnerable
In Addyston and Ripley County, some feel blessed just to be alive
Survivors eager to swap stories
Two died in field; two died on roads
Adjusters quick to arrive at disaster
To file a claim
Dealing with storm aftermath
Don't rush repairs after storm
Tips to picking a contractor
Kids need help to overcome grief, fears
Talking to kids
Phones, power out until Sunday
Rescue team did tough job
Storm could spur support for tax levy
Storms' memories linger after damage is repaired
Mobilization was instant
Tornado tales
TV/radio stations had reason to boast
Volunteers grab chain saws, mops as workers untangle wires
At least 7 businesses destroyed
911 calls reveal confusion, fear