Hubby and I used to live in “Tornado Alley” first in Oklahoma for a few years and then several more residing in the Midwest.
In both areas, tornado watches and warnings are common occurrences in the spring. Middle daughter is still a little fearful of violent storms because of it.
So the recent rash of relentless twisters that ripped their way through the south brought those memories back to me today. Our oldest daughter lives in one of the states hardest hit by a tornado resulting in much destruction and the loss of human life.
A twister touched down in her city a few miles from her. Hubby and I were relieved to get her text message last evening announcing she and her roommate were safe and sound in their apartment, without power and for a while no cell phone service, but safe!
What a relief! But yet this morning, I still felt the edge of anxiety and concern over her well-being and again was reassured when I spoke with her by phone at her place of work.
She had witnessed some debris raining from the sky into her apartment complex parking lot and she and roomie headed to the inside bathroom (the safest place in your home during a tornado if you have no basement or storm cellar) wearing their bike helmets. They are smart young women.
So many others were not as fortunate. As hubby and I perused photos online of the devastation and read about the death toll, tears welled up in my eyes. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones and also to those who lost their homes and everything in it.
I can imagine their grief because I’ve witnessed first-hand the damage ferocious tornadoes wreak and those sights I saw are permanently etched into my mind – sights I will never forget as long as I live.
When hubby and I were a young married couple, we lived in Oklahoma where he served in the military. There I actually experienced a twister’s fury. Since then, I often can feel the air’s ripeness for a tornado. There’s something about the air density, pressure and stillness I sense just before a fierce funnel cloud twirls through.
I don’t know all the scientific data about that, but I can tell when a tornado watch is looming. I often amazed friends in the Midwest when I would suddenly announce, “We’re going to have a tornado watch/warning today” and sure enough, the TV weatherman would verify what I felt.
But back to my Oklahoma story – I had no clue what a tornado’s fury was like back then. That strange day in April, I drove home from work through a wild thunder/hail storm and my car radio warned me there were funnel clouds sighted and evidently touching down in the Texas town across the border. And they were headed in our direction.
I scurried into our apartment, scared and worried because hubby was scheduled for all night duty at the military post and would not be home that night. Turning on the TV, I learned the funnel cloud definitely was heading towards our end of town. Our apartment faced south – from where the tornado was coming!
I opened the windows a little because I had heard that windows implode inward on you from the force of the twister. And when the TV person shouted to take cover immediately, I found sanctuary in my walk-in closet. Our cat refused to stay with me, instead she perched on the window sill facing south.
In a flash, she jumped off the sill and darted into the closet with me. And that’s when I heard it – a deafening roar like I have never heard before. The windows shook and I buried my head in a pile of laundry believing my life was coming to an end. I prayed that God might spare me or if I died my body would be found quickly in the rubble and my husband and parents would be comforted.
And then there was silence. I was afraid to move, so I just sat in the closet, clinging to my cat and waited. How long I do not remember. But I was safe and others were not. TV news reported that three people lost their lives in our area, but the real devastation was in the Texas town where three funnel clouds joined together to form a monster tornado which cut a mile wide path many miles long.
I worked at a daily newspaper, not as a ‘hard news’ reporter but one of the ‘fluff’ people –reporting human interest type stories. The next day at work, I was shocked when a tenant at my complex, who had been brave enough (or stupid) to take a picture of the twister, brought it to the paper in hopes of getting it printed.
The funnel cloud had sped across the wheat field adjacent to our apartment dropping debris as it went. My home was in its direct path and that photo showed the tornado lifting up into the air over our apartment building (and over me).
Later, I traveled with my fellow news reporters and photographers to the Texas town demolished by the furious twister. It looked like a war zone. I cried the entire time in that car full of reporters who were shocked into silence as we drove through areas where emergency workers allowed us.
Where once tree-lined housing subdivisions had been, there was nothing left. Nothing. In some areas, a lonely toilet stood but absolutely nothing else. In other areas, mangled, twisted hunks of unidentifiable materials – pieces of cars, trucks, buildings – were strewn everywhere.
I read hand written signs, fashioned out of a piece of wall or whatever was left and propped up where once a home stood, declaring, “We’re ok!” “Lost everything, but alive!” “Please call [number] if you’ve seen [person’s name].”
I have never, ever forgotten neither those sights nor the grief I felt that day for all those people who lost everything.
We take so much for granted and in one moment, it can all be blown away with the wind. Today is Page 28, Chapter 4, in my book of Opportunity and I pray fervently for those who suffered such loss because of this violent weather system. And I am full of gratitude that my loved one was kept safe from its fierce wrath.
P.S. For those of you who would like to help tornado victims in need, I highly recommend donating to Samaritan’s Purse – http://www.samaritanspurse.org
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