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GASTONIA — As a raging thunderstorm roared outside, Sydney Cox was one moment lying on the couch watching television. The next she was flat on her back, struggling to make a hole for oxygen and working to find help after a massive tree crashed through the roof of her grandmother’s house.
Cox, 18, had returned from a beach vacation to the house near the Gaston County town of Dallas just before 6 p.m. Wednesday.
She was with a friend waiting on pizza to cook and her grandmother to arrive home when the storm’s 80 mph winds knocked the tree through the house, dismantled the ceiling and pinned Cox from the stomach down underneath the roof’s drywall.
“I tried to push the couch back to where I could get out from under the drywall but there was a support beam on the couch so I could only push it back so far,” said Cox, who starts school at East Carolina University on Aug. 20. “I did make a hole so my face could get out.”
The Wilson resident and Fike High School graduate made sure her friend and a dog in the house were OK. Then she used the cellphone she still had in her hand to dial 911 and get help.
“This was just instinct, really,” Cox said. “My mom has taught me in really tough situations to keep calm. If you struggle, you’re going to hurt yourself more.”
Storms battered Gaston and Lincoln counties Wednesday, knocking down some 160 trees and shutting down at least 14 roads in both counties, including the normally busy U.S. 321. The wind ravaged the area, and heavy rain didn’t help things.
But Cox was the only person Gaston County dispatchers say was pinned by a fallen tree.
She waited for what she says felt like a half hour before Agriculture Center firefighters arrived at the house down a long unpaved dirt road.
They helped her through a step-by-step plan on how to leave the house once they got to the scene. Eighty minutes passed between the time the tree fell and when she was freed by emergency workers.
She emerged unhurt, except for a few scratches.
“The main thing that was going through my mind when I saw the situation I was in, I was just thinking God had a greater plan for me,” she said. “I need to go and do something better. This isn’t where my story ends.”
Paramedics took Cox, who plans on studying nursing at the Greenville university, to CaroMont Regional Medical Center. She was released Wednesday night.
Cox’s grandmother doesn’t have insurance on the home. Fire tape still surrounded the house Thursday morning, and it is uninhabitable. Cox said she didn’t know what her grandmother is going to do.
But Cox still called herself lucky that things weren’t much worse.
“It could’ve been so much worse and I’m just glad it wasn’t,” she said. “You don’t take anything for granted. Anything can happen in the blink of an eye.”
Adam Lawson is a reporter for The Gaston Gazette. Reach him at 704-869-1842 and follow him on Twitter @GazetteLawson.