Many stories herein are subject to the faulty, and sometimes creative, memory of the blog owner and should not be taken as factual, although the names and events are real! Kind of.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wild Weather Update

 Last Monday, April 9 was the 65th anniversary of the 1947 tornado that tore through our town and is #6 on the list of deadliest tornadoes.

It was a dark and stormy evening.  Les and I were eating supper when we heard a crash on the roof.  We looked out the kitchen window in time to see a baseball sized hailstone hit the sidewalk and explode.  I learned the next day one of our high school students was going down the storm shelter steps and before her mom could get the door closed, a hail stone hit her on the arm and she received a hairline fracture!

And so, we made the national news with our hail stones.  Here are some we picked up in the yard after the storm was over.  They've melted a bit.

The next day at school during Reading, I had my students do a little research on the 1947 tornado and find out some facts.  They thought it was pretty interesting! Who knew that we'd soon be making history for our own generation.

Prom preparations were underway also and in spite of a rainy week, the school commons was all decked out for a night of traditional prom partying.

Saturday night, April 15, Les and I ordered a pizza. When we left the house to pick it up, the tornado sirens were going off!  But the sun was shining mostly even though the rain was pouring down.  My sister, whose husband is a storm chaser, called us as we drove home through the rain (still listening to the tornado sirens) and told us we needed to get to shelter.  I rolled my eyes and Les said what do you want to do and after I informed him that his mom had spent the day making cinnamon rolls, we reluctantly headed over to shelter from the storm. And eat cinnamon rolls and pizza of course....

The storm moved on and we watched on tv as twister after twister dropped briefly from the clouds as the storm journeyed east.

We watched the weather off and on for the rest of the evening and although there was another squall line approaching our area, the weather forecasters seemed to think that it might be windy and electrifying but probably not tornado-ish.

So we went to bed, to be woken up about midnight with a call from Les' mom that there was a tornado on the ground about 15 miles west of us and didn't we think we'd better come over?

So we pulled on some clothes and I grabbed my contact case and purse and we drove over in the wind and rain.We could faintly hear the tornado sirens but that was all.  The radio stations were off the air and we weren't really awake yet anyway.

Down we went to the basement again.  The electricity went off and we began to get texts and phone calls.  My friend Debbie, whose husband, Marty Logan, is a storm tracker for News9 called to make sure we were safe.  We had no radio and no electricity and were completely unaware of the drama that was unfolding in our town.  Go here to hear his 'play by play' as he narrates the storm he was following.  It's amazing and horrifying and he is a hero! And maybe kind of crazy!

At last we left the basement and tried to get a sense of what, if anything, had happened.  The cell phones were flooded with calls as everyone tried to text or call their loved ones so reception was iffy.  I called my mom because she had been trying to call us and she narrated what she was seeing on television.  The theatre was gone, there were many houses destroyed and they believed there were deaths.  We drove around a bit before we returned home but without street lights it was difficult to tell what had happened.

The next day was beautiful--No wind, sunny and it was Sunday Morning.  Les had been on a conference call with our other pastors early in the morning as they discussed how to deal with what had happened and how we could minister to those in need.  We had a shortened Sunday prayer service and we were given instructions and suggestions of how we could deal with this tragedy.

That afternoon, we headed into one of the worst hit neighborhoods to assist in the beginning of what has been a massive community-driven clean up effort.

The above home is the first sign of damage in this area.  The NBC news van also caught our eye and was our first indication of how the media was going to converge on our town in the coming week.

This is the home of one of our friends who has recently returned home after many years of living in Pennsylvania.  She and her husband rode out the storm in an interior room.  There is no roof.  The car is under the debris on the right side of the photo.  This front wall is the only exterior wall left.  We saw many homes in similar shape where the only rooms standing intact with four walls were the ones where a family had taken shelter.  God was surely holding onto these people who survived in the flimsy shelter of their home.  The tornado sirens didn't go off because of damage by lightning in that evening's storms.  The prom was over and kids were on the street getting ready for the all night prom party.  There was little warning for this catastrophe and it's amazing that no more people were killed.

6 lives were lost.  Others remain hospitalized.  A mother had her baby early when a wall fell on her.  More than 60 homes were destroyed or damaged and at least 13 businesses were damaged.

It's been a tough week.  There have been rumors of protesters and looters. There are amazing stories of generosity and kindness.  Our town has pulled together and supported friends and strangers in this crisis.  Our city worker, firefighters, police force and emergency personnel have been working round the clock to keep neighborhoods safe, care for victims and organize donations.  Churches are filled with donated clothing and household items.  Larry Gatlin wrote a song after he was inspired by what a victim said on a news interview and did a benefit concert here. Oil field workers have set up grills throughout the damaged neighborhoods and fed the hundreds of people who are working to pick up debris and personal belongings.

Through the efforts of community volunteers, many lots are already cleared off and some building will begin Monday.  Damaged businesses reopened in new locations.   There is an air of promise and unity here that was not so evident before the storm.  It's a place I'm definitely proud to call home.

This has taken me a week to write.  It's difficult to take pictures of people's homes without feeling like you are being invasive.  But without the photos, it's impossible to understand the destruction and devastation that has occurred.  It was hard to help pick up personal possessions--again, another invasion of a stranger's privacy.  But the reality is, that is the only way this work will be done--to help strangers and invade their space and try to find the wind tossed pieces of their lives.  Some people were keeping ridiculous things from their homes.  Yet who could be critical when they were just trying to salvage something.  

So many mysteries and ironies--a "Twister" game hung in the rafters of of a destroyed house. Slivers of wood through a fence.  Posters still taped to a wall that was swinging in the breeze because that was all of the house that was left.  An undamaged house standing next to the rubble of a destroyed home.  The near misses of people who were traveling to safety who unknowingly passed directly in front of the storm.

It's just so difficult to know what to say or where to end.....


Keetha Broyles said...

Goodness - - - more of those HUGE hail stones!

Andi said...

This made me tear up to read. Every time I think of it I get emotional. It was tough here last year, and we had no deaths. It is amazing to see God's provision in the face of such destruction.

Rebecca D said...

Wow... I am speechless. We were away for the week and didn't have TV or internet, so I had no idea this had even happend. I am very glad you are ok.

KiteFlyer said...

Someone posted about 80 aerial photographs on Facebook. I couldn't tear my eyes away from them, imagining the hurt, the loss, the pain of all those people, but also in the midst of it all, I could see all the friends, neighbors, strangers who were already pulling together to help out.

Protesters?? Really?!?

One Last Thought.......

Pleasant words are a honeycomb;
sweet to the soul and healing to the body.
Proverbs 16: