Sunday, May 29, 2011
Sunday with Sam: Any given Sunday...
Isn't it amazing how life can change in an instant? Home, job, family…life. Last Sunday, Colby and I ate lunch at the church for a Spaghetti fundraiser put on to support an upcoming mission trip. After lunch we took Kael and headed over to Wal-Mart to get a fan for Colby and some anti-freeze for his Jetta. It was about 3pm when we left Wal-Mart. It was sunny and a bit too warm to be comfortable, and I remember this because Colby and I were talking about how hot it was going to be in a month or two.
When we got home, I put Kael down for a nap and Colby and I sat with my guitar and worked on a song that I had been writing not realizing that the weather was starting to change. In fact, neither of us noticed anything until I went to get Kael up from his nap when I looked out the window and saw that the sky had become very grey and it was starting to rain. I mentioned this to Colby, that the weather sure had changed awfully fast. By the time he got to the window it started to hail.
Of course, Colby grabbed his video camera and headed outside. So I sat Kael down on the couch and followed him out the front door, that’s when I was met with the sound of tornado sirens. After a few quick moments of scanning the sky for a funnel cloud with no luck, we started to hear what sounded like thunder; continuous thunder that wouldn't end. Many later described the sound as if it were an enormous freight train in your ear. That's a pretty accurate description. We shuffled inside and got into the closet under our stairs. It’s the lowest most interior spot in our house, and I figured it would have to do. If you watch the video that Ronda posted yesterday we were all very calm including Kael. We knew we had experienced a tornado, since there was "stuff" hitting the house and we could hear it pass by. The wind was strong when we went into the house and if I had to guess I'd say about 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 60. Sounds like a half descent wind storm in Washington, but from what I could see and hear, the winds must have tripled for about 30 seconds or so.
Once the wind calmed down we decided we should try to get out of there. I kind of felt like a sitting duck and Colby agreed. So Colby, Kael, and I (with his video camera) got in the pathfinder and headed out. We turned right from my driveway and we saw debris everywhere; in the street and in the yard. Across the street from our house there was a boat about 20 feet up in a tree. Within 2 blocks of our place there were trees down and roads blocked, shingles and siding ripped off of houses, and trees lying on top of roofs. There seemed to be only one turn available to us at every 4 way intersection due to trees blocking and cars stopped in the middle of the road, and before we knew it we were coming up behind Wal-Mart where we had been maybe 3 hours before. Wal-Mart is less than 2 miles from my house and with every block from my house to this retail Giant the destruction grew worse and worse.
I'd now like to take a moment to remind everyone that when we left our house, we had no idea how bad the damage would be, how far away the damage would extend, or in what direction we should drive to avoid the carnage. We accidentally found ourselves driving the entire path of the tornado over the next couple hours. Roads were blocked and police diverted us, power lines prohibited intersections. We never set out to get the footage on camera that we got. My 3 year old son was in the back of my vehicle the whole time and getting him somewhere safe and comfortable was my top priority.
I put my vehicle in 4 wheel drive over and over again. We drove through yards, ditches, curbs, and even across a football field to keep from getting stuck in traffic with no way out. I cannot begin to explain the chaos and confusion for everyone, including myself. I think I kept a cool head, but we just kept driving with no real destination except out! The tornado was so wide, almost a mile, and it seemed there was no end to the devastation.
We finally got far enough West to find a gas station that was still standing, and had power, which was good because the gas light had been on for nearly 30 minutes of driving 0 to 5 miles an hour. It was a close call. Of course by this time Kael was getting a bit tired of being in his carseat so I took him out for some fresh air while the pathfinder was filling up. I guess Kael had some sour milk or something and before I knew it he was puking chocolate milk and spaghetti all over both of us. ‘Seriously! This is the worst possible timing,’ I thought to myself. The people parked behind me sure got an eyeful while waiting for my spot in front of the gas pump, but they were so nice and even offered some napkins. Sidebar: I always try to keep a pack of wipes and some diapers stashed in my car just in case of emergency, and it paid off that day for sure. Mobile changing station, oh yeah.
After cleaning up Kael, I threw away his clothes in the gas station trash can and with a 3 second pause, proceeded to throw my shirt away as well. When Colby got back in the car and I explained what happened he literally gave me the shirt off his back. Of course he was doubled up on t-shirts that day but I still appreciate the gesture.
After pulling out of the gas station I turned into the bank parking lot next door and realized, I had no plan, a naked toddler, and no idea if I would be able to get back home. I began trying to make a few phone calls to arrange for someone to take Kael for a couple of hours or maybe more. Colby and I were so overwhelmed by what we had seen and knew that we should be out searching houses/wood piles, or overturned cars for survivors. I made arrangement to take Kael to Carthage to Bryan and Tina's house and heard from her that we could get there if we went the long way around Joplin.
On the way to the highway was the 7th Street Wal-Mart (one on the Northeast side of Joplin), so we popped in for a quick $160 spending spree for steel toed boots, gloves, flashlights, diapers, wipes, 2 changes of clothes for Kael, a new shirt, new pair of jeans, new socks for me, and some bottled water. I'm sure it sounds excessive now, but we expected to be out for hours and hours helping with the search and rescue, and I didn't know if I could get back home if I tried.
By the time I got to Tina's house, it was about 10pm. We dropped off Kael, who was feeling better now and fast asleep, and headed back for Joplin to see how we could pitch in. We must have drove through the rubble zone two or three times trying to hook up with volunteer groups and get our hands dirty, but unfortunately disorganization won. We even went to the "Command Center" as announced by N.P.R. news radio and were turned away. I met up with my boss at around midnight and he said they had been all over desperately looking for somewhere to lend a hand but were turned down over and over. Just then, a police officer yelled at my boss and asked him if he knew a way to get across town. My boss, Duce Lett, who was on his 4-wheeler said that he did, the cop asked him to lead some guy in a pickup across town to drop off a body that he had in the back of his truck. I realize that this may seem morbid, but this happened right in front of me like a normal conversation, almost like someone flagging you down to ask directions to the nearest grocery or something.
Around 1am we headed back to Carthage to get Kael and if possible make our way home, and if not, our backup plan was to just hit the freeway and go visit Grandma in Kansas City. We did in fact make it home and although the power was out and there was a potential for more storms, I was beat. So I slept with my window open that way I could hear sirens if they came back on.
We later learned that the storm was headed straight for our house and after hitting Wal-Mart and Home Depot (many lives lost), it was still growing stronger as it came right for us. Approximately 6 blocks from our house, it started to turn and ended up missing us by less than 700 yards. If you drive 2 streets over from my house there is incredible damage. If you drive 4 streets over, there is nothing there anymore. Houses disappeared, vehicles launched hundreds of feet, trees pulled right out of the ground and carried for blocks. The new car manager for my dealership hid with his wife and son and another couple in their bathroom and when it was over he opened the bathroom door only to realize that all the walls of his house were gone except the bathroom walls. Praise God!
It doesn't take long to realize what is really important to you when something like this happens. I left my house that day with the most important things intact, our lives. My son Kael, and my friend Colby and I survived. I am so thankful for God's provision for me and my family. I know that it was hard on Ronda to be in Washington while all of this was going on, but I'm glad for her sake and my sanity that she was. This town will never be the same, and I can only hope that Joplin rebuilds better and stronger. Oh and that we don't have another tornado like this ever again.
In closing, I want to let everyone know that the relief effort here has been astounding. Thousands of people from Joplin and thousands more from nowhere near Joplin have been here every day since Sunday to lend a hand. Not just Paramedics and extra Policemen, but citizens from all over the state are loading up trailers of water and food and bringing chainsaws and work boots just so they can help.
The reason I wrote this down is so that I could remember. Now you should watch Colby’s video and experience this journey with us. His story is detailed in video called "Joplin Tornado Chronicles", there are 5 parts.
Tornado Cronicles, Our Story
Someday my son will watch the videos and read this account and know that there is a God, and that He was watching out for us that day. If you are looking, you will find God in everything, even in a Tornado.