A storm chaser rescued a family who lost their home to the devastating tornadoes that blew through Mississippi on Friday, now he plans to build them a new one.
Jonny Gabel, 35, a Chicago carpenter who has been moonlighting as a storm chaser for the past five years, was tracking the powerful EF-4 that rampaged the Mississippi Delta area.
The twister was reportedly 4,000 feet wide, and churned through 59 miles of land at wind speeds of 170 MPH for the 70 minutes it was on the ground.
When Gabel and his team found out that rural Rolling Fork had been decimated by the storm, they abandoned their chase in an effort to help locate survivors.
Gabel told PEOPLE that when his team arrived the path of the tornado’s destruction was a “really eerie scene” of downed power lines and trees, where houses used to stand.
He heard someone yelling for help and rushed to the shell of a nearby home to find an elderly woman, who was uninjured and still in her bed, despite the home’s missing roof and downed walls.
“She was very calm, very collected. She wasn’t upset or wasn’t panicking,” he noted about the woman. “I think she was in shock.”
When they found the rest of the house’s inhabitants, including a child, and they were also miraculously “unscathed” by the storm that decimated a Dollar General store that was a 100 yards away.
Gabel said the “real heartbreak” was at the Dollar General, where they pulled people out of the wreckage that were both alive in dead.
A total of 26 people died in the unprecedented 27 tornadoes that ripped through five Southern states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, on Friday.
On early Sunday morning, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Mississippi, which deployed the Federal Emergency Management Agency and made federal funding available to the area that is classified as one of the nation’s poorest.
“In disasters like this, there are no strangers: everyone comes together, everyone is a neighbor, everyone is family,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday.
“They cannot do it alone, and the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA will be here as long as it takes. The entire federal family is here to support these communities.”
Gabel, who is a career carpenter, isn’t relying on the government to help the family he rescued on Friday.
He offered them his construction services for free and has set up a GoFundMe page to cover the cost of building supplies.
“I want to build them a new house. I’ve been building houses my whole life, and this is my calling. This is how I can make an even bigger difference in this world,” Gabel remarked.