Sunday, February 10, 2008

Super Tuesday Tornado

On business in Salt Lake City, the call on my cell from my home security company was fightening. "Mr. Gregory, we have a fire alarm at your residence. Your fire department has been alerted."

I had been on the phone with Miss Brenda less than an hour before. She told me that she had been invited over to a friend's house to play cards. I had seen reports of bad weather brewing along the Mississippi valley and I asked her if there had been any bad weather at the northern end of southern nowhere. She said no, but then, just before we hung up, she mentioned she could see lightning flashing out to the west.

Thinking that my house had taken a lightning strike and was now ablaze, I frantically dialed Miss Brenda's cell number. I got her voice mail. As I hung up, I noticed a new voice mail on my phone. It was Brenda, "Ed, answer your phone!"

We played phone tag for several frustrating minutes until we finally connected. As soon as I heard her live voice I blurted out, "The house is on fire, get home!"

"I am home," she said. "We've been hit by a tornado!"

Turns out Miss Brenda had second thoughts about going out at night in stormy weather, and stayed home. The Weather Channel told her that tornadoes were headed her way, and when the power went off and the pressure changed, she grabbed a pillow and jumped into a bathtub.

An F1 when it demolished the Caterpillar plant in the industrial park just north of Oxford, the storm headed NNE on a beeline for our community just 7 or 8 miles away. By the time it reached the beginning of County Road 291, it was an F3. The storm roared straight up our road, and ten homes exploded or blew away in less time that it took to write this paragraph.

County Road 291 runs pretty much straight north until it gets to about a quarter mile south of Eegeebeegee, where it jogs west about 400 meters before turning due north again. Our house is a little under 300 meters west of the road. That total 700 meters meant all the difference. Our home suffered significant roof damage and lots of cosmetic dings, but it is still standing. The stretch of National Forest opposite my road frontage looks just like the results of a "daisy cutter" bomb used to clear helicopter landing zones in jungle terrain.

Nearly a hundred trees were knocked down across the road a quarter mile in each direction from my gate. It took friends and rescue workers from our volunteer fire department several hours to cut through that abatis, in the dark, to get to Miss Brenda. Friends told me that they were cutting trees with chainsaws by the light of cell phones at one point. That none of that rescue crew was injured that night is amazing.

That the only significant injury in all of the homes destroyed on our road was a broken leg is miraculous. One young lady, seven months pregnant, had the presence of mind to scoop up her twin 2-year olds, and with the strength of a mother's love, hang on to them as they were picked up out of their living room and blown across the road from their exploding home. One of the twins needed stitches on his foot. Momma went into premature labor, but the doctors were able to stop it. If someone wrote that story in a book, no one would believe it was possible.

Miss Brenda and I drove down the road toward town this evening and past the homesites of our neighbors. Great bonfires of life's treasures turned to debris burned, tended by crowds of family members and friends. These are tough people, these Mississippians. Tough as shoe leather. They are caring and giving by the same measure.

For the past few days, a steady stream of friends and church family has driven up our drive to help clean up, to assist in hooking up a generator, to bring a jug of precious cold water, to drop off a sack of sausage biscuits. Half a dozen youth from our church showed up this afternoon and helped me cut up and haul off several trees down around my property.

I love this place. Not even a tornado can blow me away from here.
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