Monday, May 9, 2011

Confession Time:Surviving a Tornado

I can add a new term to the list of descriptions that define my life so far:

Tornado Survivor.

Yep, we are survivors of the deadly Alabama tornadoes of April 27, 2011. We are alive and well (for the most part) and I am not certain who sustained more damage, my house or my husband.

But I will get to that in a minute.

It was a normal, everyday work day. I had gotten up at 4:00 a.m., as per my usual routine. In order to bathe three full grown people and still have hot water for all, I must bathe at 4:00 a.m, Tigger (who is as large as his dad) bathes at 5:00 a.m. and Darling Hubby bathes at 6:00 a.m.

Storms of any kind make me extremely nervous, and have done so all my life. A close call with storm when I was little, has made me panic whenever the sky clouds over and the winds pick up.

In the 12 years that we have lived in our home, whenever a storm blew in, my first thoughts were of the three oak trees in our back yard. They were all relatively young, tall and spindly compared to the older ones on our street, but were still large enough to cause a problem if the right wind came along. Over the years I had watched in dread as they whipped back and forth, but always emerged on the other side of the storm standing as strong as ever.

Usually, I take my shower and lay back down until 6:00 a.m., but not this morning. The howling wind was enough to make me stop and watch the local morning news show, which was already on what they like to call "wall to wall" storm coverage. A line of fast moving storms were blowing in from Mississippi at a rate of 70 miles per hour. There were indications of rotation as well. I was glued to the t.v. set from about 4:30 until 5:45, when it was announced that the fast moving storm would reach the Leeds/Moody area in roughly 15 minutes.

I went out to the car and unlocked the doors. so that when I was ready to leave for work, I wouldn't get drowned trying to get into the car. It was not raining yet, but the wind was blowing so hard that it blew my house-dress up over the back of my head. Thankfully no one was out yet, so I didn't fully embarass myself or any of my neighbors.

Having made certain that Tigger had been out of the shower long enough for the hot water to recover, I made Darling Hubby get up and get into the shower. A few moments later, the power went out. "Grrreeeeeaaaatttt" I hear him groan from the bathroom.

Suddenly, there was a loud roaring sound. It was much like when rain starts falling hard and fast. I wanted to see how much it was raining.

I love the smell of new rain, right when it starts raining. There is something dirty and gritty about it, yet fresh at the same time. We once went to one of those "4D experience" movies where you got to smell and feel what you were watching. It was about "tall tales" and this particular story was about it raining frogs. The storm that was to bring the frogs started blowing and the creators had gotten that rain smell just right. I could have sat there all day, just smelling that smell. Whenever we have rain, I stand on the porch, breathing in that smell until I am either drenched or someone comes and gets me.

I went to open the door, to see how much it was raining. But I couldn't get the door open. It was like it was stuck. I tried pulling with both hands. The door only opened a crack. I looked through the crack, but I couldn't see the porch rail that was just a few feet from the door. Then my ears popped. My immediate thought was,"That's not good" and I let go of the door. When it slammed shut, I locked it.

Tigger came out of his room and said "Mom, you'd better come here." I tripped over Zipper, who was under my feet. JB had slinked off to the garage to hide around five. I picked Zipper up, which didn't make him happy, and met Tigger in the hall. Kit-Kat soon joined us. I was about to open the door to the bathroom when there was a loud bang on the roof.

"What the hell was that?!" Darling Hubby yells from the bathroom. Soon, he is standing in the hall with us, sopping wet, with a towel wrapped around his waist.

The headline "Wet Naked Man Found Dead In Hallway With Family" flashes through my mind.

Then, as suddenly as it had started, it was quiet again.

From the kitchen window, we could see the tree. Limbs were everywhere, covering the window, blotting out the light. It was hard to determine how big it was from inside. Darling Hubby, Kit-Kat, and I, who were not yet dressed, each went to get dressed and Tigger put on his shoes.

As we cautiously peered out our front door, it was obvious something big had happened. We stood on the porch, staring in disbelief at the debris that littered our lawn, driveway and the street in front of us. My next door neighbor, also in her robe, called out to us from her porch. She didn't even have a stray leaf in her yard. It was surreal.

We walked out into the yard and only then did we see the trees on the house and the fences. My biggest fear had finally come to pass.
Down the street, we could see the oak, on the downed power line and blocking the street. We checked on my other next door neighbor. She was alone. Her husband had been out of town. But we were all okay.

Within the hour, the sky was clear blue and the sun shone brightly. Like nothing had happened.

We couldn't get in the back yard. Trees had fallen across both ends of the fence and both side of the house. Large portions were in the front yard and street. Cars sped down our street, heading for highway 411, only to be stopped by the oak in the road. They would throw up their hands, as if the roadblock were our fault, then begrudingly back up into our driveway and go back the way they came. One woman in a silver SUV backed over our mailbox, all while I yelled for her to stop. She asked my neighbors, then standing in the street, what the noise had been. Both had answered that she had backed over our mailbox. She said "oh" put the SUV in drive, and drove away without so much as a "sorry." (I hope it boogered up her really I do)

It took over an hour for the shock to subside and for us to determine what we needed to do. We weren't certain who to call. We had been told a few years earlier that our insurance agent had retired. The home owners had been added into the mortgage, so we never had a reason to see him. Our neighbor, who used the same company, had given us the catastrophy number. I called and left a message. We walked up and down the street, surveying damage and checking on other neighbors. The sirens of emergency vehicles wailed in the distance, along with the alarm at Tractor Supply at the end of our street.

By the time someone called us back, we had already heard of the next storm system that would be coming into Alabama later that afternoon. The catastrophy agent told us they would not get to us anytime soon, to clear what we could clear safely, and make temporary repairs to avoid further damage from the next storm systems. Darling Hubby went on the roof to start clearing the limbs and survey the damage. I went into town for tarps.

Leeds was also without power, so I drove into Birmingham to buy tarps and supplies. My mother met Kit-Kat and I at Golden Rule to buy us lunch. It was clouding over and 411 was a parking lot when I made it back to Moody. I called ahead to tell Darling Hubby that I was stuck in traffic, but on my way, when a stranger answered his phone.

While clearing the tree that had hit the roof, the last limb snatched him off the roof. He fell ten feet on to the concrete patio and brick steps below. The ambulance passed me as I sat in traffic. I could not get to him fast enough. When I reached him, he looked dead. The panic welled up in me and I threw up in the yard. Thankfully, God had His hand on him and he escaped with a few fractured, but not broken, vertebrae that would heal on their own. I have never been more grateful in all my life.

As we sat at UAB for the rest of the night, we learned the lady in the room next to us had pretty much the same accident D/H had. She fell from the roof while helping patch a hole. She was not so lucky. They were having the "we will see if she is still paralyzed when the swelling subsides" talk in the hall.  I laid my head on D/H, who was angry, still imobilized flat on his back with a c-collar,  and cried. That easily could have been him.

And that is where we were when the more severe storm came in. I remember James Spann working to get the Tuscaloosa tower camera on-line and when it came up, the huge tornado left him speechless. It was like a  scene from a horror movie.  Soon the ER was filled with survivors of that storm, diverted from hospitals in Tuscaloosa that were already at capacity. One woman, bleeding and scratched, wandered around in a disposable scrub suit. the force of the storm ripping her clothes from her body. It was all so horrific.

Here are photos of the house and yard, taken shortly after the storm was over. I wish I had taken one of my next door neighbor's yard. There wasn't even a stray leaf over there. It was almost like there was a bubble over her house.

This is the bedroom end of the house. Those windows are Tigger and Kit-Kat's rooms.

You can sorta see what I mean about my neighbor's yard in this one.

Here is the back yard.

And the side yard.

I've heard of this before, but never really seen it. This stick is imbedded in the wall of the house.

We aren't really certain where this tree came from. But the oak tree caught it and kept it from going through the house and that's all that matters.

This is the view from inside the kitchen

Even Zipper had to check things out.

The street where we live didn't fare much better. We were blocked by a fallen oak tree that brought down the power lines.

Here is where Darling Hubby landed on our concrete patio. His head and sholders were on the steps (that is the navy blue shirt they cut from his body there in the lower right hand side of the photo) and he lay sprawled across the patio with a foot on either side of the dryer.

Ironically, that eyesore dryer actually saved my kitchen. The weight of the limb was resting on it, and that stopped it from going all the way through the roof, ceiling and kitchen window.

I know that this is pretty small beans compared to those who lost everything, including their loved ones, but it was traumatic for us just the same.

A life-long friend, an only child, had to bury both of her parents. They were swept away running for their storm shelter. Their bodies found a mile away from their home. As I stood in line to speak to her, she just kept saying over and over again, "they always knew they would die together."

It made me think of how things could have been much different for us.
I cherish my family.
And thank God everyday for letting me keep them


1 comment:

MOM GETS_FIT said...

I'm glad you are O.K.