Child ripped from mother's hands during tornado

Onelia Chavez-Mendoza and 1-year-old Hernan

April 25, 2011 8:28:28 PM PDT
Tears and a smile grace the face of Onelia Chavez-Mendoza as she admires her 1-year-old son, Hernan, from her hospital bed at WakeMed.

The single mother says she's thankful that God spared his little life when a powerful twister swept through the Stony Brook mobile home park last Saturday. Onelia says she and her son were inside one of the homes there visiting her boyfriend when the wind suddenly picked up.

Large hail started falling from the sky. Onelia says the three hugged each other as the force of the tornado picked up the mobile home, smashing it to the ground. She remembers seeing shattered glass everywhere.

Debris pierced her body. A feeling of sadness and despair quickly followed as the mother realized the strong winds had ripped her son from her grasp.

Hernan was found alive under a piece of wood a few feet away. He suffered minor injuries, but Chavez-Mendoza didn't fare as well.

Her left shoulder required surgery, her left arm was somehow burned and is now covered with painful blisters, she suffered six broken ribs and has cuts and bruises all over. Her recovery will take weeks but she finds comfort in her son's little face.

He is the source of her joy and her motivation to live.

Chavez-Mendoza's son and boyfriend were treated and released from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. She doesn't know when she'll be able to leave WakeMed, but she hopes it will be soon.

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