This post is the second in a series I’m writing about our tornado experience. You can read the first post here.
It sounds like a freight train. I’ve heard it described like that on TV, but really never thought too hard about it. But they are all right. It sounds EXACTLY like a freight train bearing down on you at over 200 mph.
The noise built quickly into a roar accompanying the sound of the tornado sirens outside.
Within a matter of seconds, multiple things happened:
- The power went out
- The window in our kitchen shattered sending pieces of broken glass under the door into the bathroom
- The sound became something of an explosion – like a bomb going off
- The house shuddered and seemed to sway
- As quickly as the wind threw shattered glass under the door, the wind was gone, almost an absence of air, throwing off the air pressure and forcing me to pop my ears
And then there was silence.
This all literally happened in a matter of seconds from the time we first heard the freight train roar.
I cracked open the bathroom door and closed it again. I turned to my husband and said, “Do you think we are in the eye?” (I laugh at that now – not like this was a hurricane or anything!)
I called my sister (at this point we could still get through) and told her that we were ok, but that we definitely had a window broken but not sure what other damage. I said where we were just in case so they would know.
My kids are all crying and Don and I are working on pure adrenaline. We told them to stay put and I opened the bathroom door. It was pitch black in the house but I could see the window was blown in and the kitchen table had been moved, but couldn’t make much else out.
Don went toward the back of the house and I went to the front door.
The whole time I’m thinking, ok, things aren’t bad – a broken window and a bit of a scare. Maybe we’ll be without power for a while, but we are good.
Then I opened the front door.
This part is still a little surreal to me. In a glance I can see that all is not ok. There is debris piled up in our yard and I can see my mattress. My mattress from our upstairs bedroom. My mattress from our upstairs bedroom in the front yard.
According to my children I exclaimed, “Our house is gone!” I don’t really remember that part. I remember hearing my husband say the kids rooms are not there anymore. My daughter is crying hysterically and the boys are kind of in shock. I have to yell at them to stay in the bathroom.
I gaze out the front door and see my neighbors slowly emerging from their damaged homes as well. It is pitch black and eerily quiet and the landscape looks like a war zone. We are yelling to each other, “Are you guys ok? Is everyone ok?” But I can’t get past the debris in the front safely since there are walls hanging over the eaves to the porch.
I tried calling my sister back. After several failed calls, I finally got through. I told her we’d been hit and the second floor was gone. She told me that my brother-in-law was on his way toward us, and to gather up what we need. She even reminded me to grab our medication! So I run through the house, grab my work laptop, my purse, and dump everything important I can think of into it. I hand it in to my daughter and head back to peer out the front door.
The next door neighbor is in her front yard and says her house is ok (she lives in a one-story and appeared to only sustain some roof damage) and if I wanted to bring the kids over I could.
So we gathered the kids up and walked them out the back, where there is no longer a fenced in yard, and around the side of the house to the house next door where they could sit safely with the neighbors.
As we are leaving the house my daughter asks about Spike, our dog, who we had put up in the laundry room. Not knowing how the laundry room fared, I wasn’t about to open that door and check with the kids there. I told her he was safer in there since there was glass everywhere outside and that we’d come back for him.
We got the kids settled and went back outside. To do what, I wasn’t sure. At this point we are all kind of just milling around – there is so much debris it is difficult to navigate outside, but luckily everyone in our immediate block is accounted for and safe.
Don and a neighbor shut off the gas to the house (it was hissing pretty loudly), he helps neighbors do the same and checks on others, then he goes in to try and save some things in the house. There is no way to secure the house right now, what with windows broken and one of the back doors blown in, breaking the door frame.
I’m sort of just standing there. Looking around. What exactly am I supposed to do? I didn’t take a class on this. There are no instructions. I’m good with instructions. I’m not sure I’m adult enough to handle this.
Are we supposed to check in with someone? Wait for emergency personnel? What are the proper procedures?
We could hear sirens, but none came to our street. People were moving debris and cars were starting to pull through. Most were people slowly driving through seeing if anyone needed help. A few were slowly driving through holding their cell phones out the window. Filming our moments of tragedy. Videoing our wrecked homes and recording us as we cried and stared at that wreckage.
Texts and calls are coming through sporadically. Apparently my brother-in-law got a few miles away but the debris was too thick for him to come any farther. A friend of theirs was trying a different direction and was going to come and find us.
I go back and forth between checking on the kids at the neighbor’s house and standing in our front yard. I’m nervous for Don as he pokes around the house since it is hard to tell the extent of the damage in the pitch black, but he is intent on grabbing some of the electronics and gaming systems for the boys.
We continue on like this for a few hours. Still no flashing lights of emergency vehicles or anyone official looking. My phone is now dead, my daughter keeps coming outside just to be near me and my boys have been mute for as long as I can ever recall.
There are people everywhere it seems, asking, “Is this your house? Were you in there? Is everyone ok?” People start offering water and to help. Help? Help with what? I don’t even know where to begin.
At this point it is around 10pm, when that friend of my sister comes walking up to the house. He had to park almost a mile away. He was there to help get us out of the neighborhood and to my sister’s house. Here was a rock we could lean on for the moment.
Stay tuned for the next part of the story...getting the kids, dog and filet mignon out of the neighborhood…