DIAMOND – Mohammad Ali repeated three words as he sprinted down Route 113, watching the tornado tearing toward him.
“I gotta live.”
A few minutes earlier, Ali sat on the bathroom floor of his smoke shop, clinging to the toilet, when the roof of his store flew off.
“I knew it was coming and I had to get out of there,” said Ali, owner of Stop and Smoke Tobacco Shop on Route 113. “We just ran. We ran as fast as we could to the church.”
After running against the wind, Ali and a co-worker arrived at Christian Life Assembly’s doors mere minutes before Sunday’s tornado pummeled the church, as well as neighboring businesses EZ-Living RV, the Chrome Rack Bar, Shell gas station, Sunshine Gardens and Ali’s smoke shack. A nearby tanning salon also was hit, but sustained minor damage.
“I had a little kid tell me it looks like someone dropped a thousand bombs on this place,” Ali said of his shop. “I think that’s about right.”
The five neighboring businesses and the church – all located at the intersection of Route 113 and Interstate 55 – are shut down because of the devastation.
But Ali, like other business owners on the road, plans to reopen his shop as soon as possible.
“We are still in the land of opportunity,” said Ali, who has owned the smoke shack for four years. “We will come back stronger and rebuild.”
Bill Mitchell, owner of the neighboring Chrome Rack bar, said he has owned the business for two years.
“We were really turning a corner in the last few months. Things were going really good,” Mitchell said. “And now, well – if I can put it into two words – it sucks.”
Mitchell and seven customers were at the bar when the sirens went off. Indecisive about what to do, Mitchell decided to make a run for it at the last minute and drove away in his truck.
“It was like the Clash song, you know, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go,’ ” Mitchell said. “I was a sitting duck. I wish I hadn’t left, but hindsight is 20/20 you know.”
After the storm had passed, Mitchell headed back to the bar to find all seven of the customers who stayed were OK, but his bar was demolished. His customers hid in the back of the bar, which was connected to a large garage and kept them safe.
The bar’s two televisions, meat smoker and supply of liquor were left untouched. Mitchell loaded roughly five boxes of liquor from what used to be his supply room into the back of his truck Tuesday morning.
“We’ll save these for our grand reopening party,” Mitchell said. “I want to rebuild and reopen as soon they’ll let us.”
Ali said nearly all of his inventory was lost in the storm.
“Everything is broken or has water damage,” Ali said.
Down the road, Sarah Beach, special projects manager at Sunshine Landscaping & Garden Center, said most of the inventory inside the building was safe, but much of what was in the greenhouses is lost.
Beach – who is the daughter of Sunshine’s owner Connie Wozniak – said the hope is to have the store open for the holiday season.
“We’ve been at this location for 28 years, and in business for 35 years,” Beach said.
The center’s greenhouses are unusable because of broken windows.
“Most of them are a loss,” Beach said. “But our building seems to be holding its own.”
Beach said all of the outer structures were lost, including a gazebo and front porch, as well as several trees.
“We’ll be open as soon as we can make it safe for people to come in,” Beach said.
Customers and former workers volunteered to clean up debris at the businesses affected by the storm.
Judy Henderson of South Wilmington said she has been a longtime customer of Sunshine Garden.
“I took the day off of work to come out and help,” Henderson said. “We all need to do our part so things can get back to normal.”