Saturday, March 10, 2012

Leap Year Tornado

(Disclaimer: This is a little long and mostly for my personal memories.)

Just after midnight on February 29th, Ellie woke me up. It wasn't storming yet, but she and I both knew it was coming. She always checks the weather before bed, and I had even stayed up to watch the local meteorologist tell us what to expect. But no one expected...

Between midnight and 1am Ellie and I dozed off and on. The wind picked up and I checked my phone for weather updates. Sometime after 1 it showed that we had changed from a watch to a warning. I got up to check the tv reports, and our power went out. Ellie and I woke up J, Austin and Annie and headed downstairs. The wind howled loudly. Jason missed a call on his phone, and soon mine rang. The ADT lady reported glass breakage at our new shop, and gave us the news that apparently the police phone lines were down. We quickly realized this was very serious. Within minutes it was calm again outside, and Jason went into town to see what had happened. After I calmed the kids down and got them to sleep (all 3 snuggled in my bed) I spent the rest of the night texting, facebooking, and listening to a police scanner app. The reports were grim.

Jason says what he saw as he drove in looked like a war zone. Like something from a natural disaster movie. Trees down everywhere, emergency vehicles, strobe lights, the Hilton hotel with it's white curtains flapping in the wind outside of broken windows, against the dark night sky.

Our shop took a hit. Broken windows and doors, awnings mangled or missing. Some glass inside, but not much. Thankfully all but one of our windows were a special safety glass that held up. We're considering ourselves lucky.

Lots of businesses didn't fare as well. Many on the "strip" are totaled. A few theaters, several hotels, a large shopping center, a grocery store and Walmart, our sweet little market Sunfest, one of our friends go-cart tracks...all heavily damaged. The tornado lasted for 22 miles. It came 1/2 mile from our house. For weeks we'll be driving past the wreckage on our way to school. Ellie has a friend who lost her home, and another boy in her class who's roof was torn off. One teacher from our school, who lives very near us, lost her home. Everywhere we look now we see blue tarps on homes, trees uprooted, and oddly hanging phone lines as they make all the repairs. Our power was out for 18 hours, my friend Ami's was out for 3 days. School was canceled the following day due to the wreckage on the roads...

Jason and Chris spent about 40 hours straight at the shop. They worked to get things cleaned and temporarily fixed so they could open and serve the needs of others. The shops' power came on after 36 hours. Now, almost 2 weeks later we still have boards in our windows, but new windows and awnings are ordered.

We will never forget this. My uncle asked me if I'd ever seen tornado damage like this in real life. I thought I had, but now realize I hadn't. It's unreal. Indescribable.

Our old shop took a hit as well. Holes in the roof, water damage. Thankfully it was still vacant as now it needs a whole new ceiling and roof, and new wiring.

It's hard to see our town like this. In a tourist town you need people to come. It's our livelihood. But already people are rebuilding and spirits are raising. Amazingly no lives were lost here as they were other places. We remember Joplin less than a year ago...

Leap year 2012 will definitely go down in history. Our lives are changed. My kids have seen first hand what a natural disaster is. But we are still standing. And thanking God for his mercy.


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