New Hampshire Grandmother Dies Shielding Stepson's Baby Boy

A grandmother killed when a tornado bore down on her lakeside New Hampshire home died holding her stepson's baby boy to protect him from gale-force winds and pounding rain.

The 3-month-old infant lived, his cries helping firefighters find and save him. His grandma, 57-year-old Brenda Stevens, was being hailed a heroine.

"She was dead, but the baby was still alive," family friend Kristin McGovern told The Boston Globe. "I think she was the angel."

Stevens' husband Harley Stevens ran downstairs to try to help when the tornado suddenly struck, but the twister's force blew him out of their house on Northwood Lake.

"He was blown out the side of the building and found in the side yard," State Fire Marshal William Degnan told The Associated Press.

After crawling through the rubble and seeing Brenda Stevens' body on the floor, Degnan said, rescuers followed the sounds of the baby's wails and found him pinned between the flattened home's first and second floors.

He was only a few feet away from his grandmother but unhurt, according to The Globe.

"An act of God, I guess," Chief Stewart Yeaton, of the nearby Epsom, N.H., fire department, told the paper.

Authorities have not released the 3-month-old boy's name. Concord Hospital said Thursday he had been admitted, but said the family asked it not to release further information.

Neighbors say the couple had been watching the boy while his parents, Harley Stevens' son and daughter-in-law, were at work.

The National Weather Service confirmed that the storm responsible for Stevens' death and severe damage in 11 New Hampshire towns Thursday was a tornado.

Meteorologist John Jensenius confirmed Friday that the twister hit nine towns, and Saturday, after inspecting further damage, added Pittsfield and Northwood.

He also updated the previous estimate of the swath of destruction, saying the storm's path was about 40 miles long and about a third of a mile wide at spots.

Jensenius said the tornado moved from Deerfield, where it killed Stevens in her home, to Northwood, Epsom, Pittsfield, Barnstead and Alton. It then moved through New Durham, Wolfeboro, Freedom, Ossipee and Effingham.

In several towns, it was a category 2 tornado with winds of 111 to 135 mph.

Jensenius said the twister moved at 40 to 50 mph through woods and over lakes and homes.

Photos taken by The Associated Press of the Stevens' property show the house in splinters, with firefighters searching the wreckage.

Brenda and Harley Stevens were babysitting when the storm suddenly struck.

"Brenda was a sweetheart," family friend Robert Bennett told The Globe. "It's hard to take. ... She was just one hell of a super lady. You couldn't ask for a better person."

The tornado left a staggering amount of damage in its wake, but somehow, a low number of causalities.

"The state of New Hampshire dodged a bullet on this one," said Jensenius. "Some of the areas are just flattened in terms of trees. If there had been houses there, they would have been crushed."

At least a half-dozen houses were crushed from Deerfield to Effingham. At least 200 other homes were damaged and about a dozen people hurt.

"Certainly, there was a potential for more loss of life," Jensenius said. The storm took less than an hour to move from Deerfield to Effingham, he said.

Where it hit, the winds blew down or snapped huge trees and smashed houses in one spot, and left property next door unscathed.

Several factors helped contribute to the low number of deaths and injuries. Much of the storm path was over woods, many people were not home when the storm hit their property, others who sensed it coming scrambled to safer places and some heeded the weather service's tornado warnings after hearing them on radio or TV.

"The good news side of it is a number of people who did hear the warning ... did take protective action," Jensenius said. "We do know the word got out."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.