Tons of Debris from Columbia Rains Down on Anderson County

"We heard a loud vibration.  We thought it might have been a train, but it was a lot louder than that," recalled Cesar Saenz of Anderson County.

In the lifetimes of everyone in the county, it was something no one could ever imagine. That one of the symbols of American strength shattered over their homes on a beautiful Saturday morning.

Claudia minter "And the roof kind of shook, and the house kind of shook, and we thought it was an earthquake."

Cesar Saenz was driving down 155 this morning: "I was coming to town through here, and I saw a lot of dust and smoke -- a streak of smoke coming across the sky." Moments later, a large section of Columbia fell to the ground in the median of busy highway 155.  It didn't take long for Cesar to realize what was happening.

"They said the space shuttle blew up, and that's when I said, 'Hey, that must have been a piece of it.'"

David Blackmon's job was to secure a small piece of the shuttle's heat shield. The order: no one comes close.

"A hundred feet... They're advising a hundred feet."

Cynthia Cooper was delivering mail when jagged scorched metal punctured her tire.

"I just heard a crunching noise, and I looked out and a piece of this thing was in [my tire]."

She's OK, just a little shaken. "I never saw anything like that before," she adds.

This day is one they'll never forget -- including the children who are seeing an American tragedy first hand.

"There's no words to express something that tragic," says Claudia.

"I'm just terrified -- just heartbroken. My heart goes out to all the people on the crew. I'm just mortified."

Morgan Palmer, reporting.