Monday, June 22, 2009

Blown Away

I'm a week and a day late for a new blog. Something I chalk up to two weekends out of town. And up until a few minutes ago, I was at a loss as to what to write about. Then my boyfriend flipped to a History Channel show about, among other dangerous things, the most dangerous weather events - tornadoes. It immediately took me back to that moment in the Spring of 1985, when I was just 11 years old, huddled under the mattresses, hiding from the storm that had already found us.

Since I had spent my entire childhood in Texas, by the ripe old age of eleven, the school tornado drill was second nature. We all knew it cold - the alarm would sound and all the students would file into the underground rec center on the school campus. We would all line up around the walls to be protected from potential falling debris and curl up on the floor in the fetal position with our hands crossed over the backs of our necks. After ten or so boring minutes our teachers, satisfied with the completed drill, would let us up and send us back to our classrooms.

I remember many a night too when the news would report tornado watches or warnings and dad would open the door to the crawl space under the house and set a flashlight beside it. We would all keep a close eye on the weather updates just in case the foreboding rain and wind started to form into one of the dreaded swirls and we needed to head under the house to take cover. Something that never actually happened. It was enough to make a kid convinced that all the precautions and weather warnings were just hype and that nothing that disastrous was ever actually going to happen.

It was a spring evening. I vaguely remember that we went to the movies, but I could be totally wrong about that. I do know that by ten, my then seven year old sister and I had gone to bed in the room that we shared, just down the long, window-lined hall from my parents bedroom at the end of the house. By the time my mother flew into our room and hauled the two of us off our beds, flinging us onto the floor and pulling the mattresses cross-ways to cover us, the bulk of the damage had already been done. But it was that moment when I was ripped out of my sleep and thrown into terror, that I knew I was finally in the midst of a storm I had previously thought I had little reason to fear.

As it turns out, it wasn't actually a tornado, but a serious of shear winds that carved out their damage in a straight path instead of a swirl. Damage that can be just as intense as that bestowed by their better known cousin. The storm that night left the city of Dallas fraught with destruction and left our house quite literally cut into two.

The story up to the point of my mother's abrupt entry into our room was told to me, and to this day, I am still in disbelief that the noise failed to wake up me or my younger sister. My parents were getting the house ready for bed when the mild winds that had been present earlier in the evening started to build to a blustering frenzy and the raindrops started to fall. It was when my father attempted to close the bedroom window and was unable to push it down against the strength of the wind that they began to realize something was terribly wrong. As a deafening roar started up, my mother turned to run down the hall, shouting to my father that it must be a tornado and she needed to get to the kids.

That's when the glass from the long wall of windows began to fly and my father recalls pushing my mother to send her down the now treacherous hallway faster before he turned and ran to the other side of the bedroom, seeking access to the bathroom and the safety of the shower stall. He told us later how he was unable to open the door because something was keeping it shut, and at the time he thought it must be the force of the wind. By then my mom had torn us from our beds and pulled us to the floor, shouting that we were in a tornado. I remember trying to carefully pull the fishbowl from the nightstand between our beds, terrified that I would slosh the fish out onto the floor in my haste. I remember hearing my sister scream to get the dog and my mom frantically pulling our boxer by the collar to get him under our mattress tent. I have no recollection of the noise, but I remember the deathly quiet and the way our voices echoed when we screamed for my dad.

It seemed like forever before we heard his response and relief flooded through me. He yelled that it was okay for us to come out and we carefully extracted ourselves, pushing the mattresses aside and cautiously looking out into the hall. I could hear my father talking to us, but I could not see him. The American Elm that had once stood outside in front of the hallway now lay across the hallway, through my parents closet and bathroom and out into the backyard, reaching almost to the creek at the back of our house. It was so tall on its side that I couldn't see over it. And it was raining. In our house. As I looked up, I could see a wide swath of night sky where our ceiling had been just minutes before.

As neighbors came to help us tarp the roof against the declining storm, we put ourselves back together and assessed the damages. My mother had glass down her back and bruises on her shoulders from where she had been hit by the falling tree branches as she had raced down the hall. My father had been unable to get into the bathroom because the tree had already fallen down by the time he got there, blocking the door. We had lost several trees all over our property and in a stroke of luck, trees had fallen on either side of the cage which held my pet bunny rabbit, leaving him wet and scared, but otherwise unscathed.

In the end, it turned out that the focal point of the entire storm in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex was just outside our house. There was damage all over our neighborhood, and all over the city. We were incredibly lucky that night. And now that I live in LA, much like I was in my early childhood, I am unfazed by the threat of earthquakes. But a hefty windstorm will always give me the chills.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that is really scary! I am glad that your whole family survived that.

    I live on the western coast of Michigan, so thankfully tornadoes are a rarity around here. But I have seen waterspouts on Lake Michigan a few times... they are scary too! When they suck up too much water and the funnel becomes too heavy, it falls apart and the water just drops... and if there are any boats out there, they're pretty much toast. We do get severe thunderstorms with very strong winds and lots of flooding from time to time as well. Just a few weeks ago we had one with wind gusts up to 125 mph and there were trees and powerlines down everywhere! Lots of flooding as well... carrying vehicles and washing out roads. A ton of people, including my parents and my sister, had their basements flooded. Not fun.

    I guess, no matter where you live, there is always a risk of some kind of severe weather, huh?