Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Twister Live (The OK Tornadoes 05/19 and 05/20)

In a scene in the movie “Twister” several people are discussing the intensity rating of tornadoes. It’s mentioned that EF2s and EF3s are pretty strong and an EF4 will relocate your house. Someone else asks if there’s such a thing as an EF5 and what would that be like. The reply? “The finger of God.” For those of you who don’t live in tornado alley you may want to note that this little factoid wasn’t made up for the movie. If you’ve been anywhere near your TV and on regular programming this evening you’ll know this is true. The city of Moore, OK was hit by an F5 today. Actually, “hit” is a bit of an understatement. Words can’t describe the devastation.

The news has been tossing around “war zone” as a description. I wonder if anyone who’s been in a war would agree. This was not man made. This was not something anyone could fight. And, in some cases, this was not something from which you could hide. At one point the reporters said that if people couldn’t get underground the chances were pretty good they wouldn’t survive. Why do I care enough to post about this? Because several of my loved ones live in Moore and as soon as I heard the sirens and the news that the tornado was headed towards them I tried to text one of them hoping against hope that she was at work and far far away from her house. She was not. She was home. Her daughter and son-in-law were at their apartment. Also in the path of the tornado. Another cousin was in a Moore school. Unreachable by me. The rest of his family was in different parts of the city. I work in an office on the 20th floor of a building in downtown OKC. My windows face to the south...towards S. OKC and Moore. I sat in my office, looking out the window of a building just miles away from these loved ones and that tornado and straining with all my might to be able to see what was happening. Yes, I knew that even on a clear day I can’t see that far but, at the time, it didn’t matter. I needed to know.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much work done. Fortunately, I have a very understanding boss. He took in stride the fact that I couldn’t sit still and kept walking in to his office to give him updates about people he’s never met. At one point I told him I wanted to go home. His immediate response? “Okay.” No questions asked. I didn’t leave. I knew there wasn’t anything I could do and, had I left, I’d just sit around the house worried. So I tried to work and didn’t accomplish much.

I spent the next hour texting; trying to find out who was where and whether or not they were safe. My family is not a group of great communicators but apparently we pulled out all the stops for this ordeal. My mom was in another state and got some family news before I did. I also logged on to KFOR.com to watch the streaming video of what was happening. It wasn’t pretty. So much damage. So many homes and 2 schools destroyed. The reporters showed the schools but wouldn’t tell us the names (they didn’t know yet themselves). I knew which school my cousin was in but the reporters wouldn’t confirm whether or not his school was one of the ones they were showing. I started yelling at the reporters on my computer. Because that always hurries information, doesn’t it? They finally gave the names of the schools. Not his. Thank goodness. Relief! Then I got the message that another cousin goes to one of the schools that was destroyed. She’s actually a step-cousin but our family doesn’t work on the step-system. If you’re family you’re family. Period. It was okay though. She hadn’t gone to school today. Hold that thought…she was at home which is in the housing area behind the big theater that was hit and we didn’t have information yet about whether or not she and her grandmother had gotten to shelter. ARGH! They are both safe. Thank goodness.

I finally gave up and decided to bring my work home with me. I didn’t feel like doing it here either but it would put me closer to my family. This all started around 3 o’clock this afternoon and we didn’t confirm the location of all family members until around 10 this evening. They are all safe. I want to see and hug every one of them. Just to be sure. As I was leaving work, dad called and asked if my house had any wind damage. I hadn’t even considered my house. I knew the tornado hadn’t hit it but I hadn’t thought that it could be hurt by the weather in other ways. That was a dreaded trip. I pulled in to my driveway and the only disaster to be seen was my lawn which badly needs to be mowed.

I went inside, hugged my boys and called dad to let him know everything was okay. I turned on the TV and HGTV came on. Regular programming. Didn’t they know what was happening here? Then I turned on the news. Seven children who were trapped in an elementary school had drowned (I just heard on the news that it was from broken water pipes in the school). Seven children who left home for a normal day of school and wouldn’t be returning. That was it. I had had enough. I called my mom. My sounding board. My rock. Everything had gotten very surreal. My house was fine. My boys were fine. I was fine. Love It or List It was on HGTV. If all that was true, how could something so bad have happened just down the road? Mom let me cry it out and we talked about what we’d both seen on the news. I was angry that we’d had looters at a medical center and people trying to catch pictures of destruction and injury. In Oklahoma. My Oklahoma. The state in which people help each other in times of tragedy. They don’t add to it. I was heart sick that so many children had died. I didn’t know yet that the number would climb to 24. Mom let me vent it out and told me to get some sleep, told me she loves me and hung up the phone.

Why do I feel like my little story is important? I don’t. Not really. As it affects me anyway. It’s after midnight and I can’t wind down. But, the little roller coaster I rode today was absolutely NOTHING compared to what happened to those in the path of the tornado. Compared to a mom who couldn’t locate her son. Compared to a dad/son trying to get to his daughter and mom. Compared to teachers – found under cars and trapped under debris- who used their own bodies to protect their students. Compared to sobbing rescue workers who had to switch their efforts at an elementary school from rescue to recovery. Compared to thousands of people displaced because their homes are no more. My fears and stress, though they seemed large at the time, were minor.

This has been declared the worst tornado in history. The death toll has climbed to 51 and I pray it stops there. [Turns out the news was wrong on that count at the time of this post. The total was 24; that number including 9 children]In a few hours I’ll get my sleepy butt out of bed and drive in to work while thousands try to figure out how to carry on. I pray that they get back to “normalcy” as quickly as possible. I pray that those who lost loved ones will be able to get rest enough to see them through. I finally feel like I can go to sleep but it’s with a heavy heart. The one bright spot in all this is that the loss of lives could have been so much worse if not for the systems set up for just this very event so that people are warned quickly. My only wish is that 24 more could have been saved.

Please remember the people of Moore in your prayers. They have a tough road ahead of them but they are not alone. Every thought and prayer counts and yours will be felt throughout the community. Of this I am sure. God bless and keep us. Good night.

Added 05/23/2013:
I hate to admit that in all the excitement over the Moore tornado I completely forgot about the cities that were hit the day before. It's hard to imagine how though. A friend and I watched in horror as the reporters told the people of Carney and Wellston that the tornado was as big as their cities and, once again, if they couldn't get underground they needed to get the heck out of Dodge. If you've ever heard an Oklahoma newscaster during a tornadic event you know this just never gets said. It's always only "seek shelter". To be told to flee or die must be a scary, scary thing. Shawnee and Norman were hit along with several smaller cities with a death toll of 2 people. I know that doesn't sound like much but to their families, it's a lot. To all of these cities mentioned I would like to offer up my apology for not seeing the big picture. You too are in my prayers.

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