Monday, May 3, 2010

This Place Looks Like A Tornado Went Through It

May 3rd, 1999 started out just like any other ordinary day. My husband Bob, our children and I had risen early to prepare for school and work. There were breakfasts and lunches to make, backpacks to fill and faces to kiss goodbye. Once everyone was safely out the door I began my work day on our farm. We had two steers and six hogs going to market that morning so I headed out to the barn to prepare things and to feed our horses and goats. As I walked towards the barn I looked up at the sky noticing it had that eerie green shade so common during spring storms. I continued towards the barn not giving the weather another thought.






As I entered the barn, I did what I had done since the day we purchased the farm. I thanked God for giving me my dream. How I loved that barn. It was almost 100 years old and boasted almost 4000 square feet to its two story wood frame. Every time I entered it, I felt my entire body relax with the sights, sounds and smells of the past and present sweetly coming together.










The morning went by with the market animals picked up on time and the chores done quickly and easily. I settled in my favorite chair in our comfortable living room for a relaxing cup of coffee. As I sat there sipping my coffee, I looked around the room thinking about how much I loved the farm. It was truly the place I had dreamed of all my life. Some of my happiest moments since moving from California five years earlier to Oklahoma had been spent on this farm.












Suddenly, my calm was shaken by the blaring of our weather radio. Since weather warnings were not an uncommon thing for the Oklahoma plains, I went into the bedroom fully expecting it to be the typical wind or storm warning. This time was different. There was something ominous in these warnings. I switched the radio off and went to the television knowing our local news would be giving the needed details. Yes, there were chances of multiple tornados but nothing solid yet. I shut the television off and called my husband. He assured me everything was fine and so we both continued our day as though it was.

I went about my housework feeling a growing uneasiness. The weather seemed more brooding outside and the air in the house felt thicker by the moment. Within hours Bob called to say all schools were closing and he was leaving work to go get the kids and head home. Even though there were no sightings in our area, the schools were taking the necessary precautions. I felt sick but Bob assured me he and the children would be home soon.

My oldest daughter Rachel and her husband Joel had purchased a new home just a few miles east of us. Today was to be their moving day. I decided to help pass the time, I would drive over and see if I could help them unpack. I called Bob to let him know where I would be and asked him to call me as soon as he and the kids got home. He assured me he would.

At my daughters I busied myself with the things associated with moving. She and I cleaned and unpacked boxes while Joel transported their belongings from the old house to the new one. Soon we received a phone call from Bob. He and the children had started the nine mile journey home when a tornado touched down in town. They quickly took shelter at the first house they came to. This would happen twice more before they were able to make it home safely. The kindness of strangers would prove to be immeasurable throughout that day and the days to follow.

We decided it was best for me to stay where I was until we knew for sure it was safe to travel home. As I felt the knots in my stomach getting larger and harder, I cleaned and unpacked with a vengeance. Shortly after the last phone call from Bob, the power went out. The cell phones would no longer work. The tornado sirens in town began to wail. I yelled for my daughter to get into the bathtub and cover herself with blankets as I ran to the sliding glass door in the dining room. As I stood there peering out into what should have been the blue sky of early dusk, I lost my breath. All I could see was the blackest, thickest, widest tornado even my own vivid imagination could not have dared to dream. I ran to the bathroom and told Rae, “I think we’re in trouble honey.” We both ran to the hall closet and closed ourselves in while praying that this would be the safest place. My chest began to hurt from the pressure of the tornado passing. We continued to pray.

After what seemed like hours the sirens stopped. Rae and I left the closet upon hearing a knock at the front door. A neighbor had come to see if we were okay. As we talked Joel drove up. Jumping from the truck he came running into the house crying. He had been on his way back to us with another load of belongings when a tornado had stopped him. He had taken shelter in the home of strangers. His greatest fear was that of losing his wife as he saw the huge monster heading our way.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I had not heard from Bob. The phones were not working and all I could think of was getting home. Joel wouldn’t let me go alone so the three of us got into his truck and headed west to the farm. We had only gone two blocks when the siren began its horrible wail once again. The police flagged us into a safe house refusing to allow us to continue on. As we took shelter with strangers I prayed for the safety of my husband and children.

Hours would pass before we were allowed to continue our journey back home. Joel refused to take the dirt back roads that would quickly lead us to our farm. He felt it best to stay on the paved roads as much as possible. I was frustrated with that decision. Later I would learn of two more tornados passing through those back roads at the very moments we would have been on them.

When we finally came to our road I saw the first images of the destruction. It was now after 10 pm. The sky was black and the lights that normally dotted the county roads were all gone, destroyed by the tornadoes. There were police and fire trucks everywhere. The eerie lights from those vehicles along with our truck headlights illuminated more than I wanted to see. We would have to drive one mile down the dirt road before getting to our house but I already knew. I could see pieces of our barn and home along the road. I began to hyperventilate.

Pulling in front of what was once our home, now crawling with emergency workers and neighbors; I jumped from the truck and ran to the edge of the front lawn. Even in the darkness I could see the barn was gone. The house looked like something from a Halloween horror movie. It was battered beyond recognition with doors and windows gone and lace curtains blowing from the inside to the outside. The wind howled through the empty shell. I looked across the driveway to see my husband’s car crumpled and destroyed. I dropped to the grass screaming thinking I would never see Bob or our children again. As neighbors tried to comfort me, I sank deeper into darkness, my mind swirling with the sight before me. Just when I thought I couldn’t take another breath, a familiar pair of arms enveloped me. Bob held me close as I sobbed with relief. One by one our children joined him by wrapping themselves into the family embrace. They had arrived home minutes before the tornado hit giving them just enough time to take shelter in our basement.










Sixty-six tornadoes would pass through Oklahoma on May 3rd, 1999 killing forty-eight people. It would be recorded as the most prolific tornado outbreak in Oklahoma history.

30 comments:

Brian Miller said...

lord...
my heart was hammering...
i am glad all in your family were well...
i can not imagine...

Parsley said...

I remember this day. This is what I don't like about our state. It is so scary. Thank God your family was okay. I pray we are all spared these storms as spring comes to Oklahoma again.

Real Housewives of Oklahoma said...

This had me in tears for you.

It touched our family as well. My husband's first cousin and two small girls lived in a trailer home at Bridge Creek, the hardest hit area. They survived, but left with life-long issues. The two girls were in comas for months. They were 4 and 8 at the time.

Our house was hit by a tornado when we lived in Moore when I was in kdg/first grades. It was so scary. We didn't have a basement so we just hid in the bathroom.

That house was hit by tornadoes at least 3 times that I know of over the years. The May 3rd tornado wiped it out.

There is no way I'd live in Moore or Catoosa. They seem to be magnets for tornadoes.

Thanks for sharing your story. I can not imagine the fear upon arriving back at your house.

So thankful you all were safe.

Real Housewives of Oklahoma said...

Oh, I forgot to sign my on that last comment.

~Mrs. Albright aka Dawn's Diversions

aLmYbNeNr said...

Wow. I can't even imagine the horror of living through something like that. I live in Maryland and tornadoes are rare. They usually gravitate towards Charles County when we DO get them so I usually have nothing to worry about. Though, when I was a kid, there was once a tornado warning or watch and I grabbed my laundry basket, filled it with things from my room I did not want to lose, and took it to the basement. Nothing ever happened, thank goodness. What an ordeal. This brought tears to my eyes. The anguish you must have felt when you arrived to your house, not knowing...I can't imagine. I'm just glad you and your family are alright and I'm sorry for the 48 who were lost.

Two Shades of Pink said...

I am speechless. Or wordless. OK. I have the words...This must have been terrifying. I think I would have seen it like the worst day and best day rolled into one. The worst to see you rhome that way but the best thinking you lost your family and realizing you were wrong and they were safe. I almost hyperventilated just reading it. Marla, as usual, you tell a fantastic story that puts the reader right there.

Andrea said...

Wow Marla. I am so glad all of you were ok. How frightening being separated from Bob & the kids for hours, not knowing...that would be hell on earth.

Every day is a blessing. Life is fragile. Savor every moment.

Love ya!
Andrea

ModernMom said...

Oh my! I held my breath as I was readin gthis post. Thank God you are all well.
Your pictures and words..I can not imagine your fear.

Nicole said...

Wow. Not much to say but that. You can see it on the news, read about it in the papers and Newsweeks, hear them go on and on on Foxnews or CNN...but to hear it first hand from someone you know - chilling.

So glad that all are well.

Think of that tornado everytime you are freaking out about the wedding - it'll be a good reminder of the chaos and REALLY big obstacles that you've survived and overcome. :)

Ms. Anthropy said...

Must admit I had read this one some time ago (Helium) and find it more amazing with the photos.

Coby said...

Oh! I cried "the ugly cry" reading this. Thank God for the kindness of strangers and God's protection on your family. I simply can't imagine going through something like this - I've always lived in the Southwest, where the biggest natural disasters are flash floods - usually you just hear about people get hurt trying to drive through them. Not quite like tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.

Thank you for sharing this.

TechnoBabe said...

We too are California transplants. I can understand your joy with the farm of your dreams. Your pictures tell the physical part of the story. Your words speak of the fear and worry. We haven't experienced a bad storm yet. I would like to know more about this incident. Did you rebuild?

Boomer Pie said...

Oh my God! We see tornado damage all the time on TV but to hear your personal experience is heart-wrenching. So what's happened in the years since? I would think that every spring and summer you'd be on pins and needles wondering when the next storm is brewing.

Sarah said...

that was just terrible. thank goodness nobody got hurt in your family, but the stress must be devastating.

Blasé said...

A horrid tale, indeed.

There were 50 Tornadoes near us just a few weeks ago. A few people were killed.

I saw four small twisters dissipate while on my route, last week.

You were fortunate. I don't like tornadoes, at all.

Deborah said...

Tears are certainly squirting out of my eyes reading this. I'm happy all of yours were safe, but imagining how you might have felt has left me trembling a bit.

Aaaah girl.

Andrew Swansson said...

To those who don't live in fear of living with these Tornados they are awesome to witness on our TV all the way over here in Australia, after you taking me so personaly into the heart of one .... WoW ... I have tears at what you lost and even more tears at what you didn't loose.

Amazing Article ... Amazing

Jingle said...

Blessings,
I am sorry that had happened.

Oklahoma Granny said...

The destruction was truly devastating. I'm so glad that your family was ok. I can only imagine how hard it was for you during those hours when you couldn't get to them.

Enchanted Oak said...

Marla, I'm in awe of the series of miraculous interventions in your life and your family's. To have got the idea of leaving your home for your daughter's, her husband's decision not to take the back roads, your husband's safe travel home with the children, and then their survival and yours when destruction hit. You really did walk through the valley of the shadow of death and emerge alive thanks to your Creator. You must still be in awe, knowing God has an unshakeable purpose for your life.
I want to know what happened next. Will you please tell us?

Mommy Lisa said...

Oh my Oh my...I cannot even imagine the sheer terror.

Well, a LITTLE bit...but just a little. We had a tornado go by our house, but all it did was pitch the gas grill, break apart the picnic table and suck a wall out of our garage. Our next door neighbors lost their WHOLE house.

I am so glad all is well.

Michelle said...

Wow, what a story! I'm so glad for you that it had a happy ending. I've never seen a tornado except on TV and I hope I never do see one! I'd rather have blizzards any day.

Teresa - in the Middle Side of Life said...

I posted a comment earlier - at least I thought I posted it. Maybe I didn't type the word verification in correctly...

I can't remember exactly what I wrote, but the gist was that same storm system came through KS and killed five more people, three of which were members of my son-in-law's family, and very nearly killed several more members of his family. It was tragic all around.

Three years ago today another tornado ripped through the town of Greenburg, KS, destroying nearly the entire town. They are rebuilding.

Your story was very touching. Your photos of your before pictures beautiful and the after pictures amazing in how different they looked.

Thank God for the kindness of strangers and that your family was safe.

justsomethoughts... said...

wow.
i was kind of freakig out just reading it.

Kelly said...

I have a solution - move back to California! We miss you so much, and yes, we have earthquakes, BUT, we have warnings, and at least we could all be together :) LOVE YOU!!

Frau said...

Omg I can't even imagine ....the fear, my heart was aching so bad through the world story. I'm sad for the loss of your property but thank god for your lives. I hope you were able to rebuild the place you loved so much. please do a part II to story.

Libbie said...

Oh Marla!!! I can't bleieve you went through this! It must have seemed so unreal!!! I do remember that day. I want to go read your next post now!

Amarja said...

Marla, even do I have heard this story, the way you wrote it down made me cry. Thank God for the kind people who helped you that day. Love you!

Lily Robinson said...

Have I been gone this long? I've got lots of catching up to do!

Maybe it was just a senior moment, but I missed the very first line... the date! I have a personal history with tornadoes, so devoured your every word... except for that date!

As you lay on the ground sobbing over Bob, I sat here with tears running down my cheeks. Even once I learned they were all OK, I cried as I saw the devastation... your home standing there ghostly. Then I read the last paragraph.

So glad that this was long ago. But as emotional as it was to read, I'm sure you can still feel the emotion that filled you that day when you look back at those pictures. I am thankful that God's hand was protecting your family that day! PTL

Dawn said...

Oh, I do remember reading this. It gave me chills all over again. :(