Stepping over sparking live electrical wires, I walked up the hill trying to get my bearings. I figured once I got to my buddy’s house on the right, I’d know where I was. But I stood there in the cold drizzly rain trying to still get oriented. That house was supposed to be right there, but it wasn’t. In fact, there was nothing there. It was then I realized my friend’s house had been completely erased by the tornado.
January 1999, an F4 tornado roared through our community and lives were taken in a subdivision close to us. I felt strongly that I needed to go there that night and offer help.
I’ve never been in a war zone, but it has to look something like that looked. Parts and pieces of homes were everywhere. Life’s remnants were strewn about like toy parts in a kids room. Broken baby cribs, family pictures and parts of many people’s lives were scattered on the wet ground like confetti. Concrete driveways made entrances to nothings. Their houses were completely scraped clean off the face of the earth leaving absolutely no trace that there had ever been a home and a life there. A yellow school bus lied on its side up against part of a home where lives were lost. Houses that did survive had been moved on their foundations.
Some of my neighbors just up the road were killed inside of those homes. Some of them were literally sucked out of their homes and found dead in fields nearby like a coffee table that had been caught in the suction.
Tornados are not to be toyed with.
As a small child, my parents put a respect of tornados in me. Many nights mother drug me under a bed frame when it was just she and I at home by ourselves. She was doing what parents do to protect their children and she can’t be faulted for that. If dad was not gone on the truck, we’d get in the car and go to this one particular embankment that offered protection from the west direction where the bad storms usually came from when it ‘got bad’.
Our neighbor’s mobile home across the road had been blown over by a tornado once and I remember going in it when it was on its side the next day. They had taken shelter inside of their concrete shop that was close by.
Now, roll forward to 2019 with our technology and it seems like every time a cloud thunders, schools close and everything we own is blaring alarms. And the weatherman is telling us to go to our safe spot and put toe-tags on so our bodies can be identified. And then it just rains and we’re fine.
But not every time.
Last night storms were expected in the area and they were just sort of moving through without a big commotion. Then suddenly our phones, the tv, and the home alarm system blared that there was a tornado spotted in our county.
The FIRST thing that crossed my mind was the grandbaby and her safety.
I was pleased and relieved to see that my daughter had already gotten Emma out of her crib and was holding her close. She’s an amazing mama. It wasn’t doing much outside so I said let’s just all go on to the storm shelter right now before it started raining harder.
It was actually the first time my entire family had utilized the storm shelter that my wife and I had wanted for many years and had installed in a bank just beside our home. I had a moment of pride as all of us sat safely inside of the concrete bunker. I was assured that my family was safe here.
Today we are challenged with filtering out when we should take cover and when it’s ok to just brush off the alarms. Truth is that we hear so many alarms now, it can be a bit like ‘crying wolf’ when it hardly even rains and they’ve given dire forecasts.
That Sunday night in 1999 we heard the tornado warnings, but we just kept going with the night’s activities. We were fine. My wife was giving the kids a bath and I was writing out checks. Then suddenly the hail started, the wind got really strong and then it was steady blowing wind like a strong, relentless fan. The trees in the front yard bent over and stayed over. My wife ran with the kids to the tub and I was making my way there when it all suddenly stopped and nothing was going on. At all. Dead quiet. The trees straightened themselves back upright.
It was over then. The tornado had moved on in its path of destruction. Of course, our home phones were out, but our rudimentary 1999 basic cell phone rang soon. My brother was on his way from Lexington to check on us. They had heard our area had been hit by a tornado. My father in law and my brother in law also had driven up from Jacks Creek to check on us. It’s about family.
I still remember the conversation I had with my friend that lost his house but his family was safe in their basement that night.
‘As we sat in the basement, I heard the sounds of all of the glass breaking and thinking I’d have to replace a lot of windows. When the storm passed, I opened the basement door and was getting ready to walk back into our house with broken windows. Except when I opened the door this time, instead of seeing a room, rain was hitting me in the face. There was no room anymore.
The only thing left of our home was one kitchen wall with some cabinets and it had some plates and saucers still in like we had put them in there.
The rest of our house was gone. But my family was ok.’
I know people that brag and say ‘well if it’s my time, it’s my time.’ Good for you. Go ahead. You be the brave one.
But this house will take cover when needed because I’ve seen what we’re up against and tornadoes don’t have a heart. I’d advise each of you reading this to find a safe spot to go to as well, ahead of time.
As a father, a husband and a grandfather, it’s not all just about me anymore.
It’s about my family.
That’s the best that I can tell about it,
HERE are links to the pictures of the destruction in 1999.
HERE is a link to a CNN article about that tornado.
HERE is a link to a Jackson article about it.