Ariana Eaton will have no memory of sleeping through a deadly tornado that ultimately destroyed her family's central Illinois home Nov. 17, but the newborn's parents are sure to remember everything that followed that fateful day.
Ariana had just come home from the hospital a day before the tornado ripped through their hometown of Diamond, Ill., roughly an hour southwest of Chicago, and slept through the destruction as her parents took shelter with her in a nearby basement.
"It was scary. I was afraid we wouldn't be here," Mari Eaton told NBC Chicago.
The Eaton family, like many others in central Illinois, suffered major damage to their home; most of their personal belongings were destroyed and their home is now uninhabitable. Amid the devastation, Mari Eaton said several people's spirits were buoyed by her daughter who has been dubbed the "Tornado Baby."
"Somebody said, 'Can I take a picture of the Tornado Baby? She is the light in all this darkness,'" Mari Eaton told NBC.
As the Eatons' story of surviving the tornado with a newborn spread, the surrounding community responded with outpourings of generosity.
Jason Eaton told ABC Chicago the family received supportive phone calls from total strangers. The local Patten Cat, a heavy construction equipment dealer, donated pallets full of supplies for the family, including cash and gift cards.
“We thought we’d be your Thanksgiving surprise,” Allison Loehman of the Patten Cat marketing department told the family. “We heard the story and met last week and we just fell in love with you guys,” Loehman told the family according to the Morris Daily Herald.
“There’s so much stuff we’ve received. It just doesn’t feel like we deserve it,” Jason told the Sun-Times. “There were a lot of other families affected, and we hope they’re getting the same amount of support.”
“It’s been a very emotional week. I’ve been on and off crying,” Mari told the Herald. “Sometimes I am crying out of pure happiness because people have been so awesome. She’s been so taken care of.”
"Ariana is going to have quite the story when she grows up,” said state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) upon meeting the Eaton family in Diamond last week.
The Eatons say they plan to rebuild their home in Diamond and move back in this summer. "After this, I really can't see myself living anywhere else," Mari said.