YAZOO CITY, MS (NBC) - The clean-up and recovery continues after massive tornadoes across the southeast that killed at least 12 people and left dozens injured.
As hundreds now works through the debris and their grief, there is word of a hero in the strike zone.
"She had a big heart, she's so anything in the world for anybody," said Sherry Carpenter.
As a violent tornado ripped across northeast Mississippi, Nicki Carpenter's thoughts turned to her three young kids.
"She was the best mom ever, no doubt," said Nicki's mother in law Sherry Carpenter.
With 170 mile an hour winds rocking her mobile home, Nicki apparently reacted the only way she knew how.
"She had gotten a mattress off the bed and put it over those 3 boys," said Carpenter.
After the storm passed, it took neighbors more than two hours to work their way through the debris, Carpenter's trailer had been mauled. "He said it looked like bulldozers went around that house and pushed it all together in a big pile," Carpenter said.
As they dug their way inside they finally found Nicki's body she had died laying across the top of that mattress. "To put a big mattress over those three kids and to lay on top it to make sure those babies would be protected. It cannot get better than that I think," Carpenter said.
Underneath, neighbors found her three boys.
"I have no doubt that she gave up her life for them to live. No doubt," said Carpenter.
Battered and bruised, they had survived. "Got helicopter that landed out there from UMC and airlifted all 3 of the boys to the UMC Medical Center," Carpenter said.
The boys are all still there. Their most serious injuries something a doctor can't heal.
"They've been asking for their Mama. Lane the oldest did tell the doctor and said I know my Mama is gone," said Carpenter. And someday he will know she died protecting those she loved the most.
Her family is distraught, but not at all surprised at how she died in the storm. They are calling her a hero and say Nicki's priority was always her three young boys.