Gabel, who arrived in Mississippi to track the storm, rescued the family from the wreckage and has since initiated a GoFundMe campaign to help them rebuild their home.
After saving a Rolling Fork, Mississippi, family from a lethal tornado that destroyed their house, a storm chaser is aiding them in starting afresh. Jonny Gabel, a carpenter from the Chicago region who has been chasing storms since 2018, told PEOPLE that keeping in contact with the family following their rescue from the wreckage has been "the most rewarding experience" of his life. He is now utilizing his platform to assist them in reconstructing their home.
A terrifying example of what tornado force winds can do. Rolling Fork, Mississippi.— Nahel Belgherze (@WxNB_) March 26, 2023
Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images pic.twitter.com/O7VmQY2QNe
The 35-year-old said: "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. They've been saying I'm an angel."
Mississippi's recovery efforts will receive federal aid through an emergency declaration authorized by President Joe Biden. Rural towns such as Rolling Fork and Silver City have been hit the hardest, with survivor William Barnes losing his entire home. Barnes said, "Everything is gone. It's all gone."
Storm Chaser Volunteers to Build House for Mississippi Family He Rescued: 'Kind of a Miracle' https://t.co/kzZ9KLjezs— People (@people) March 26, 2023
Gabel and his team arrived in Jackson on March 23 and tracked the storm until it was confirmed as a tornado, located around half a mile away from them. They were informed of the destruction in the Mississippi Delta on March 24.
"We stopped chasing the storm, and we just went straight into Rolling Fork to help with taking people out, search and rescue," Gabel shared. As he entered the town, he encountered a disturbing sight of electric wires exposed and a row of trees broken in half, marking the tornado's path. It was then that Gabel heard a voice shouting from a house, "I require assistance! Help! Please, come and help me!"
Silver City, Mississippi.— Юрий (@Youri47021927) March 25, 2023
And this is just the beginning.... a tornado is coming over the city. pic.twitter.com/TK3ZmJO1X4
"We went straight over to that house. And those were the first people that we helped," he explained. Upon entering the house, Gabel discovered an elderly woman who appeared remarkably composed, sitting calmly in bed as if nothing had happened. He noted that it was peculiar and believed she was in a state of shock.
Gabel recounted that the woman described the tornado as appearing out of nowhere, swiftly ripping off her home's roof and wall right before her eyes. "But the thing that's just so strange, she didn't get injured," he stated, adding that the woman only had a small cut on her thumb. Miraculously, everybody else in the house also emerged "unscathed."
As another individual arrived and placed a large wall fragment on the debris, allowing them to walk on a flat surface, Gabel saw a "Thankful" decal. He was amazed and exclaimed, "Thank God you all survived. This is kind of a miracle," he said, as the Dollar General, just a hundred yards away, was entirely demolished. Gabel further recalled pulling both living and deceased individuals out of the rubble at the nearby store.
At least 21 dead after tornado-spawning storms roll through Silver City and Rolling Fork, Mississippi. One town is ‘gone,’ resident says https://t.co/bwZrIWRD0R— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) March 25, 2023
Gabel chose not to film inside the store "out of respect," but his TikTok video of the family's rescue has garnered over 150,000 views. As a result, he was able to get in touch with one of their family members to talk to them about assisting in constructing a new home for them. He is providing his building services free of charge and seeking an accountant to handle donations. He pointed out that even a small contribution of one dollar from his almost 50,000 followers would make a significant difference in achieving their objective. Gabel revealed that few things have ever mattered to him as much as this project. He has since initiated a GoFundMe campaign to purchase materials for the new home.
Gabel, who identifies as neurodivergent and experiences complex PTSD, stated that his "passion is helping people," and that this trait, combined with his background, results in him being calm and collected during traumatic circumstances.
"I'm the one who isn't afraid to light up the darkness. I've existed in darkness for half of my life," Gabel declared. "I don't live in it anymore, but I'm not afraid to be in it. So I'm the one who stands up in the darkness and holds the light up, so others aren't so scared. That's what I have to offer to this world."