Wednesday, February 6, 2008
The Difference A Day Can Make
This is what's left of our post office. I can't quit thinking about how many times I've climbed those stairs.
Yesterday seemed like an ordinary day. It was cloudy, drizzly and somewhat warmer than what it has been. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Around 8:00 P.M. when I considered putting my grandson to bed for school, the electricity flickered a few times and went off. Luckily, my son works for a company that provides a truck that comes generator-equipped. He backed it up to the house and ran cords in so we could continue to watch the weather reports. We all sat and watched storm-tracker on Channel 5 as the red sections grew larger and more intense. They were headed for Nashville. We live about 40 miles away so of course we were concerned when little swirly marks popped up.
We continued watching, because my son has always disliked storms and becomes our instant safety monitor. Last night I'm so happy he did. Around 8:30, he instructed me to empty out half our closet. I thought it was silly, but I did it anyway. I'm from California. Our biggest threats were earthquakes and they came without warning.
But, I cleared an area.
Around 9:30 we were gathered around the TV watching the storm come closer to Castalian Springs. The estimated time was about twenty minutes before it reached our community. We've had high winds before and tornado alerts, so I wasn't overly concerned, but at 9:55, the storm-tracker screen highlighted street names, among them Harsh Lane and Lick Creek. My heart pounded. We live on Lick Creek. The weatherman's voice added emphasis to my fear, "People who live in this area need to go to your safe place NOW."
We crammed ourselves into the closet and within seconds, the roaring we heard was deafening. I've often heard it described as a 'freight train' and that's pretty accurate. As quickly as it started it was gone. The TV cable had gone dead and there was stone silence. The sky suddenly flamed, and we worried that houses were on fire. Little did we know that a tornado had taken a large section of Castalian Springs and turned it into rubble. Sirens blared, and my son went investigating in his bare feet and pajama bottoms. The house at the end of our street was gone...at least everything except the basement. Trees and power lines were down, and although the far horizon was a huge ball of orange, it was still too dark to see much of anything else.
We finally went to bed, still without power, wondering what was on fire. All but my son...he sat up and kept vigil for the next approaching round. I don't think he went to bed until the sun was rising. We awoke to news and THP helicopters filling the sky, and learned the fire was a gas plant miles away that had been struck by the twister. On TV and through the mouths of neighbors, the story unfolded. The post office was gone, along with all the houses around it. That didn't account for the devastating swash left to get to that point. House after house leveled. Twisted trees littered with personal belongings, and cars flattened until unrecognizable.
The houses on the right hand side of Hwy 25 were now nothing more than debris on the left hand side. Mail was scattered everywhere. While trying to find survivors, someone heard a baby cry, and miracle of all miracles, an 11 month old child was found alive amidst the rubble. The mother, not so lucky. A few miles away, and eighteen month old survived having been sucked from his parents' arms. At least a touch of joy in a tragedy.
Seven people who lived within a few mile radius of me died last night. I didn't know them personally, but I share the sorrow of their loved ones. Yesterday, a mother and child probably played together and never expected it would be their last day on earth together. Life is too short, people, not to reach out and embrace the ones you love. Let them know before you can't.
I've seen devastation before on the news, but it never touches you as much as when it happens in your own backyard. I say that literally. Had the wind shifted a few hundred feet, my family would have been among those not so lucky. We truly feel blessed today. My prayers are with those who now try to recover from the disaster and heartache. We were even more saddened to learn that the man across the street suffered a heart-attack and died while trying to seek safety in his closet. It's been a long, emotional day for everyone in Castalian Springs.
So, as I reflect on the past twenty-four hours... to all you, my friends, I say, "I love you, and I'm so happy to be alive. Blessed to be able to tell you."