Man escapes collapsed building

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News 12 at 11 o'clock, July 11, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---One man is dead and others, including two children, survived a frightening ordeal when a tree fell into a neighborhood store just off Laney Walker Boulevard this afternoon.

40-year-old Robert Walker was riding his bike on Laney Walker when a tree fell, killing him. Nearby, four others were trapped when the tree fell through the Community Store at 11th and Dugas in downtown Augusta. An 11-year-old and a 13-year-old were among them, including Larry Gilbert.

Gilbert was hit by falling planks and debris. He has cuts and bruises, but he didn't lose his life, and for that, he says he is not complaining at all. Still, he says the accident is something that he will never be able to get out of his mind.

"It scared me too," he said. "I know I seen my life flashing...but I didn't give up. Lord, I got kids. I can't go like this."

Gilbert says he went into the store initially to buy cigarettes and to wait out the rain before heading home down the street. But after the tree hit, he was trapped in a nightmare.

"It messed me up. I mean, you know, I really didn't know what was going on, so I just turned around and tried to run," he said.

"Severe uprooted that entire tree," said Chief Tom Willis. "I mean, the whole root system was gone."

Chief Willis says that the bad weather caused the catastrophe, and there's no other possible explanation.

"I've seen collapses before and trees come down," he said. "Looks like we might've had a microburst in this area, with all the trees and power lines down. It's hard to tell right now..

"I don't know how I got out, man, but the good Lord was with me," Gilbert said.

Gilbert was finally able to get out of the crashed building, but it wasn't easy.

"I wiggled myself out," he said. "Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. I moved stuff so I got out, and I kept trying to scoot and I finally got out."

"That's something that will never leave me," he added. "That's something I will never forget."

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