Friday, April 29, 2011

Daniel in the Tornado

This week hasn't been very ordinary.  For starters, Boots has been out of town on official garbage man business, meaning I had to stay in our house by myself and also being the longest amount of time we'd been apart.  We were able to go to church together Easter Sunday which was great, but from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon I was living the singlemarried life.

I woke up to thunder, lightening, and rain early Wednesday morning, had a pretty good day at work, despite all the news about the impending bad weather.  I left work about forty-five minutes early, just in time to make it home soon after the Bootshusband got back and had a fantastic tangy chicken recipe I wanted to try, mixed veggies, and fried okra planned for supper followed by chillin' on the couch, catching up on our DVR recordings listening to the rain.  (Prepositional phrases, anyone?)

My well-laid plans were cut short when the power went out.  We were hearing reports of the tornado being pretty close to us so I shut the dogs in the bathroom and we hightailed it across the road to the church to hide out in the basement.

Boots went into full-on garbageman mode, calling all his fellow trash buddies, finding out all about the happenings.  I just kinda chilled and listened to babies cry in the preschool department under the church, got kinda bored, tried to hunt a phone signal, but gave up on all that when Boots came busting in, "Daniel's house got leveled!  I'm going up there!"

"You ain't leaving me!" I yelled back even though I knew that riding into a storm is never a good idea.  Can't tell a hardhead nothing.

For those that ain't in the know, Daniel is Boots' oldest brother, he lives a couplefew miles from us, not too far, not too close.  We kept his three chirrens for him a month or so ago and I love those kids because it only takes an ugly look to make them behave.

I kinda figured "leveled" was an exaggeration since Bootsy has been known to tell a tall tale every now and again.  He tried to call Daniel, but the phones weren't working, probably because everybody and their mama was talking on them.

So we flew up the road and I mean flew literally.  My little car was doing over a hundred, waaaaaaaaaay faster than I have ever dared drive it.  I was terrified, imagining our sure and fast deaths.  What if he wrecked us when we were going to go save his brother?  How was that going to help?

Boots managed to get us there sans accidents, and we rode around with everybody else who were trying to find a way in to their homes and families.  The police were turning people around at certain points, but people were parking their cars and getting out walking.  It was getting dark and there were no street lights since there was no power, the darkest dark I've ever seen in the city.  (City darkness is different than country darkness.  I don't know how, it just is.)

We tried calling Daniel on our cell phones, but the towers were jammed up with everybody else having the same idea so no calls or texts would go through.  Boots was past the point of frantic and had shot my nerves to you-know-where and back.  We drove the permissible roads, trying to find the checkpoints they were sending people to find their family members.  I was left to watch the car, while Boots jumped out to interrogate the cops and find out anything he could.

I was kinda nervous because I know how psycho people can get in the face of natural disaster, like post-Katrina in New Orleans, so I had my eyes on the prize Boots the whole time.  All of the sudden, he tucked his elbows and took off running into the darkness.

Oh.  Crap.

Panic, panic, panic, don't panic, don't panic.

I'm like a crazed dog locked in a car, looking out all the windows in every directions, sure that something or somebody is about to come get me.  After a few minutes. Boots runs up and gets in the car, Daniel following right behind him.  Luckily, Daniel saw Boots first and yelled for his attention and they found each other, despite the cell phone difficulties.

Obviously shaken and almost to tears, "Man, am I glad to see ya'll," was about all he could say.  He directed us to his friend's house where his boys were being looked after and we joined them all in hiding in the basement to wait out more possible storms that we heard were coming. 

The boys were laying on a pallet of car carpet on the basement floor and covered up with a sheet.  Their daddy was so glad to see them again, hugging and kissing, telling them he loved them over and over again. They seemed ok, but you could definitely tell that he was still really shaken up over the the afternoon's event.

While we waited for the hard rains to pass and make sure all the tornadoes were gone, Daniel told us The Story.

He'd had no power most of the day, but it came back on a few hours before the storm hit.  He and his boys were in the basement, watching the news when debris started falling around the house outside and he got worried.  He yelled at his boys to get under the stairs and threw all of their toys out from under there.  He threw pillows at them and yelled for them to sit on them, running to get the mattress off of the spare bed in the same room. 

When they were all under the mattress, he put his arms around their necks, holding them to him so tightly their heads would have had to pop off to get their little bodies away from him.  He said that he could hear his house popping and cracking, the glass breaking and the air getting tighter and harder to breathe from the changing pressure. 

At this point in the story, he laughed, "I started praying out loud and after a few minutes I heard a voice......It was Gavin, repeating everything I was saying!"

He prayed and prayed, scared for their lives, asking God to take him, but save his boys.  He saw his dog sitting next to them rise off the floor, she yelped and was snatched away. 

He estimated that it only lasted about two minutes, I'm sure it felt like an eternity.  When it got quiet and he felt like it was over, he stuck his head out from under the mattress and looked out and over the stairs.

"All I saw was sky."

The boys weren't wearing any shoes so Daniel scrounged around, hunting up all he could in the devastation just so they could get out.

I took this picture the next day, showing what they wore.

They were trapped in the house for about 45 minutes because the huge tree in Daniel's backyard was up against the house, covering the backdoor.  Daniel tried to call 911 for help with no luck, since the phones were down.  He yelled out when he heard people calling around and handed his boys one by one, through the tree.

Outside of the house, they looked around at all of the wreckage, took a knee, and prayed again, thanking God for sparing their lives.

They tried to find their next door neighbor, but feared the worst and assumed his death after minutes of unreturned calls and unsuccessful searching.

Daniel saw two houses on his street, completely engulfed in flames, countless others completely obliterated like his own, downed power lines and trees.  He lifted his boys over, pushed them under, and walked them around every obstacle for a mile and half to his friend's house, wearing the shoes in the picture above.  Two parents were frantically searching for their lost son, looking over his three boys to see if one of them was him.

I have only seen Daniel's house in pictures that he took on one of my cameras the next day and it looks pretty much like I imagined.  Its something out of a scary movie and at night all you'd need is monsters to come out and complete the film.

This used to be Daniel's house, with a big front porch, two car carport, and a backyard with trees and woods behind it.

Here is his beloved motorcycle and his car that he hasn't even driven a full year.

Their under the stairs hidey-hole.

The boys' bedroom closet.

Daniel's bedroom.

Boots and Daniel were able to recover a few things from the wreckage: his generator which is now plugged up at our house to power our freezers and the TV, his oldest boy's prescription for his anti-seizure meds, a box of checks, his guns, his wallet, but looking at all the mess was more than they could stand after a few hours so they left, abadoning the rest.

No cars, no house, but he's got his boys and that's all that matters.  We've got no power, but the water in the shower is hot.  They've been camping out with us in our little house and its kinda fun.  Sure we don't have power, but who cares?  I taught the boys to play Mexican train, we colored pictures, went emergency food shopping where I saw a mother and two kids, one of which was wearing a penguin houseshoe and a flip flop, been eating lots of junk food (chips, crackers, snack cakes), we went on the boat on the river for a few hours today, started a fire in the fire barrel in the backyard last night, played countless throw the ball games with the dogs, all in the name of trying to survive stir-craziness.

We've talked to our neighbors and shared tornado stories.  One woman told about a ten year old boy that got snatched out of the bathroom his family was hiding in and flew around in the tornado before it gently sat him down over a mile away.

There are many people throughout the state dead and even more missing.  The president even came down here to survey the damage, too bad he didn't stay long enough to eat somebody's mama's fried chicken.  Boots and I have discussed never staying in our house if a tornado is coming our way, since we'd surely die if our fifteen foot around tree in the backyard came crashing down.  We talked about building an underground storm shelter and making sure any other house we ever live in has a basement. 

People always say that you don't think it could happen to you and they're right.  I never thought a tornado would tear up my corner of the world like it has.  So far my life has been safe from natural disaster and I've lived unscathed.  Things can be replaced, people can't.  We're thankful no one we know has died.

I joked with Boots, betting he wouldn't chase anymore tornadoes after this. "I thought about that. At least not an F5!"


Anonymous said...

I cried reading this! Love you Rachel......


Anonymous said...

Wow!!!! You put it in perspective.
Papa Boots.

Emi Aultman said...

Oh my goodness....
This made me cry! I'm so thankful that the Lord spared you all! Afterall Boots family is my family too! Love y'all!