Winston and Faye Morelock believe they had a little help from above when it came to surviving a massive tornado that destroyed their East Nashville home.
The couple, who have been married for 43 years, tell PEOPLE in this week’s issue that they were on their mattress when the twister hit in the early hours of March 3. That’s where they stayed, despite the fact that the wall against which the bed was once propped up was torn away by the wind.
Miraculously, a dresser in their bedroom that held a collection of small angel figurines also remained intact, as did two angel figurines in their living room, which was also destroyed in the tornado.
“It’s amazing. Only thing I can say is, it’s a hand from above that kept us alive,” Faye, 78, tells PEOPLE. “I’m lost for words.”
In the end, the two tornadoes that struck Tennessee that morning killed at least 24 people.
Winston, 73, likes to stay up late in his living room most nights, but went to bed earlier than usual the night the tornado hit because he had to wake up early for Faye’s doctor’s appointment the next morning.
“I was laying in the bed, and we heard the sirens go off,” he says, adding that they stopped a few minutes later and he felt fine going to sleep. “And it wasn’t but 30 seconds, it came through here, and you could hear every kind of debris hit and hit the side of our house.”
Winston says he rolled over to his wife and quickly tried to protect her by grabbing her neck and throwing his hands across her face to shield her from broken glass.
“About that time, this wall came in,” he recalls. “It came in on us. I was holding her, and went over her, and grabbed the mattress we were holding on to, and I said, ‘Honey, hold on, hold on!’ And all I could do was grab that mattress with my fingers and hold her.”
He likened the twister to a “vacuum trying to pull us out of the house,” but says that eventually, after about 30 or 40 seconds of struggle, they found themselves still on the mattress, which was now sticking about a foot outside of the house through a gaping hole.
For Faye, the feeling was “the most scariest feeling there ever was.”
“You’re trembling to death, and you don’t know if you’re gonna be alive or if you’re gonna be dead,” she says.
“And that’s all that was going through my mind — we’re gonna die, we’re gonna die.”
Winston credits their tight grip on the mattress with saving their life — and is also certain that the angel firgurines, which didn’t budge amid the chaos, may have had something to do with it.
“[The tornado] just crushed everything in the living room. And we had a big dresser in our room and it never moved the dolls or angels on the dresser. It never moved them,” he says. “I can’t stop thanking God because if he didn’t have his hand on us — we would’ve been out of here.”
For more on the Tennessee tornadoes, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe now.
After losing the house they lived in for 42 years, the Morelocks took shelter in an SUV belonging to their neighbor’s stepfather as they waited out another storm, even though the car — which also shielded five other people and two dogs — was slightly damaged.
“It’s just a nightmare and I haven’t woken up,” says Faye.
For Winston, too, the aftermath has been emotional, and he estimates he has “literally shed a million tears.”
“I know there are others that are worse than us, but I thank God there were no more killed,” he says. “And thank him for his hand on us.”
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