Monday, March 02, 2015


We don't get many tornadoes in this part of the world. So earlier in the day when a friend from Kansas sent me a message warning me about storm bearing down on us that had potential for tornadoes I dismissed it. By the time I made it home from work we were in the gripes of a major thunderstorm. The power was out at my house so I made the decision to get dinner and ride out the storm in a safer area. I went to get dinner in a town about an hour south of me. I texted my sister along the way warning her the storm would be there shortly. She was staying at her boyfriends house in a small town about 40 minutes from me. Two days before, that town, West Liberty was hit by a very small tornado. What was the likelihood that it would be hit again? We so rarely got tornados, surely we wouldn't have 2 in the course of a few days?
The steakhouse was packed, and loud, but the waitresses had turned the TV's on to watch the news. You see things like this play out in movies, not in real life. The fork stopped half way to my mouth, my first bite hanging in the air. A news clip showed a huge wall of clouds and what would later be categorizes as an EF-3 tornado a half mile from where my sister was, and it was tracking straight for her. 

Phones were out and I couldn't get a call through to my sister. The blood in my veins felt as cold as ice as I asked the waitress to box up my meal. I made the 2 hour trip to West Liberty in record time, and all I saw along the way was destruction and chaos. I was one of the last cars to pass through the town on Salyersville and down the Mountain Parkway that night, before they closed the roads. A small community near my home was completely underwater.

 I made it to West Liberty. My sister's boyfriend lived high on a ridge overlooking the city, trees blocked the

roads leading to his house, but I managed to make it to the parking lot of the towns hospital, a quarter mile from his house on the same ridge-line. I continuous line of ambulances streamed up the hill to the hospital (I was in a completely separate part of the parking lot and not in their way at all). The hospital had lost its rough and ambulance crews from all over had volunteered to transport patients to other facilities. I got my first look at downtown from this vantage point. The little town were I held my first job, were every fall a group of us would gather to host a Living History, the town was no more. 

Stories of bravery in the face of certain death came pouring out of West Liberty, the girls who locked themselves in the freezer of the little walk up dairy-bar. Cops who ushered people to safety. A woman whose car was ripped away by the tornado just as her hand reached for the door handle. In all this little town of 3,000 people would only lose 6 residents. Most of their buildings would be a loss, either directly knocked down by the storm, or declared structurally unsafe. It would take 2 years for the elementary school to reopen, two years for the youth center to reopen. Just a few weeks ago that Methodist church that had long stood as a landmark at the crossroads in town hoisted the steeple into place atop their new building. 

In all this tornado outbreak spawned 70 tornados, took 41 lives and caused over 3 billion dollars in damage.

And my sister? They survived, despite the tornado going directly over their house not even a trashcan was moved. Her, her boyfriend and her dog hid in a closet in the center of the house until well after the storm had passed. 

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