Sunday, June 24, 2007

Transcending Tragedy

Surviving a Tornado's Devastation
By Carol Bogart

Reading recently about the lives lost in a little Kansas farming community of 1400 with homes, businesses, churches and schools scattered like kindling across the plains, I was reminded of the tornado I experienced not long ago in Ohio.

Kansas is known as "tornado alley" – but Ohio has its fair share as well. When a wag quipped, "May the earth stay still" upon learning of my plan to move to California, it crossed my mind that the destruction I'd witnessed after that tornado looked pretty much like the pictures I'd seen after California's Loma Prieta earthquake in '89.

Nature's power is hard to fathom until you witness it first hand.

I remember exiting a supermarket, following the young man who would load my groceries into my trunk, when I noticed that the air seemed unusually balmy for Ohio. "Nice weather," the young man remarked. "Not," I remember saying, "if it's a tornado." I somehow had a sense of the change in air pressure.

As soon as I had the groceries put away, I went out on my deck and looked at the sky. The clouds had converged to form a dense, low, angry black solid line.

It seemed headed in the direction of the county in which I had a farm for sale.

Sure enough, that's where those clouds swirled themselves into a funnel and turned into an F4 tornado. F4s are bad.

My farm was spared. Other "century" (100 year old or older) farmhouses and barns were not. One elderly man, worried about his herd of cows, stood in the doorway of his big, built-by-hand barn and watched as it collapsed around him. Tops were ripped out of the many large trees around his Victorian brick farm house. Forty years earlier, he'd planted each tree as a small sapling. All of it … gone in an instant.

Mennonites from Pennsylvania came and rebuilt his barn. They would comment that they'd never seen anyone control a herd of cows with a whistle.

Another family made it into their storm cellar – and for a long three minutes – the tornado passing over them sucked out every breath of air.

One young couple thought their cat was gone for good, only to find it weeks later, still huddled inside what was left of a single wall.

Most amazing, perhaps, was the young boy – 9 – home alone who remembered what the mother he'd just lost to cancer told him to do during a tornado. Putting his small dog in a carrier, he pulled all the cushions from the couch and covered himself with them when he lay down in the bathtub, far from windows that could implode and turn into hundreds of missiles of shredded glass. When his frantic father finally made it through mountains of neighborhood debris in search of his son, his house had but one room left standing: the bathroom where boy and dog were cowering.

People mourned the loss of their family photos. They wondered how they would do their taxes with all their records gone. One grandma shed tears thinking about the antique cookie cutters the tornado swept away. That year, the grandkids would not be making Christmas cookies.

Despite the loss of so many precious things, each told me the same thing: "We're alive. We're safe. We have each other."

It was all that mattered.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at Contact her at

1 comment:

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