Spending the past few days seeing images and video of destruction in Joplin has taken a toll. I feel fragile, as if at any moment I could break down and cry, and I have. I am as I write this. Families literally ripped from each others' arms as a tornado carved a path of chaos through a town. Growing up in the midwest, tornados in spring are nothing new. Since I was a child I have known that wind and rain and thunder kicking up suddenly - or even more ominously - sudden and utter stillness, like even the birds in the trees were expectant with fear - meant the possibility that the family would be making a trip to our basement to ride out whatever happened. I remember the first time I realized that not everyone has a basement, and it struck me with terror. What would they do in case of a tornado, I thought, not realizing that Mother Nature does not wield her sword the same way in different parts of the country.
Talking to my cousin today, we both agreed that we had not felt the need to take cover because of a storm since we were kids. We had not felt those fingers of fear up our backs, until a few days ago when the tornado hit Joplin, just little more than 2 hours southwest of our home. We both watched the video, mostly black, of a group of people huddled in a back storage room in a convenience store, whose audio was all too clear. People moving quicky to safety, the sound of wind growing, and a sudden WHOOSH as windows blew, a deafening roar of nature, and cries, moans, prayers, and I love you's as those people realized this might be their last day.
Every day since the tornado, in our hometown the weather has been typical blustery spring weather, but this time it has been different. This time there are more nerves and more prayers than normal, knowing what we have seen those storms can do. Today we sat in a staff meeting in our small office in the train depot and joked that we have heard a tornado sounds like a train coming through, and with 30 some trains that go right by our office everyday, how could we determine the difference? As we sat in our meeting, police sirens started up, and we stopped, looking outside and then decided it was the monthly practice siren that goes off on Wednesdays. We carried on, even talking about what our emergency plan would be if it came to that, being in an old building that doesn't have a basement. Would we run to the bar across the street? Would we try the Methodist church at the end of the block? Go to the fire station one block over?
While talking, one of our building co-workers came over to tell us that they had been told to find shelter, that there was possible tornadic activity in the area. Our boss told us to go to the fire station if we felt the need to, that he was not going, that he had heard that if there really had been a tornado spotted the fire department would sound their alarms. Immediately, alarms sounded, as if they had been waiting for him to speak those words. Immediately we grabbed our things and went to the car, drove to the fire station, and headed down into their emergency response room with other citizens and workers in our area, everyone texting or calling their loved ones.
My first thoughts were my children, at my home a few miles away with my mom. I called to make sure they were okay and in the basement. They were. I called my husband, almost an hour away at his job to make sure he was okay. He was. We sat nervously and watched TV, tuned to local weather stations. My thoughts kept drifting to my children, and I couldn't help but think of the family in Joplin, huddled in their home, as their 16 month old child was literally torn from his mother's arms by the storm. The family who could not find him after the calm, and then found his clothing, torn and tattered. The family who searched frantically through rubble in hopes that they would come across him safe and sound.
I am sickened to say that just a few minutes ago, I read that they identified his body at an area morgue tonight. My heart breaks for them and their precious son, and I want to go wake my own children and just hold them. Just listen to them breathe. I cannot stop my tears. God, please give us strength.
If you want to help victims of the tornados that have hit the midwest, click here.
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