Well, since you asked, I will share with you my experience of the Tornado of ’94. It was Palm Sunday, so like all good little children, I was being driven to church. Halfway there I told my mother to turn around, that I had a bad feeling about something; she didn’t, but I don’t blame her for not wasting an hour’s drive on a ten year old’s precognitive revelations.
It was raining when we got there, and the storm increased in intensity throughout the sermon. The preacher was not to be outdone, pounding the pulpit harder as the thunder roared outside. He was a man of the old dispensation, who instilled in us the fear of fire and brimstone, only to be saved by the fortune of predestination. He always emphasized that God was with us in that little churchroom on the mountain, and I guess if God was anywhere on that Sunday, he must have been there.
The sky turned black; the lights went out; the branches thrashed and whipped in the wind. The storm raged…and then it stopped. The preacher stopped; the wind stopped; the rain and lightning stopped. Then the sky turned green, eerily illuminating the trees, frozen as though listening very, very hard for something…and it came. Like a freight train, as they say, but with a high-pitched whine that blew open the doors. Confusion set in; people dove under the pews, curling up and covering their heads for protection. I was still standing, staring through those wide-open double white doors, across the fields at it. It was on the ground, not twisting like the thin, snake-like ones, but thick and hard and bearing down on the earth as though with a purpose. Looking back now I honestly cannot tell you whether I was afraid; I must have been, and was afraid for a long time after that, but trying to relive that moment brings no recollection of emotion…and I watched it coming, then I watched it become two, and move apart, and one went around the church on one side, and the other went around on the opposite side, and came together again and kept moving and it was over.
And of course there was the chaos of the aftermath, the difficulty in evacuating because of the downed powerlines, the anxious seven-minute drive to see if my grandmother’s and uncle’s homes were still standing (hers was, his wasn’t), the shock to see that the trailer across the street was gone…not demolished, or moved, but just gone, with the basketball goal still standing in the driveway, and here coming the basketball, like some bizarre little joke, rolling down the street from who-knows where…my uncle, aunt and cousin had all been inside the demolished house, inside the only structure within the walls still standing – the bathtub. (If you have an interior bathroom with a shower, stand in it during a tornado.)
And of course the cleanup – the million little bits of insulation, the wallet of a man living eight miles away, the pieces of straw driven with precision through telephone poles, the little birdhouse still standing on its fragile post when all the great trees had been blown away. “God takes care of even the little sparrows”, my grandmother reminded us. And the little white church? Not a pane of glass broken. My grandmother told me later she had known the storm was coming, and had prayed that her church might be spared, that God might take her home, but let the church be spared.
I have heard people argue that tornadoes cannot split into two, and that there must have just been one right behind another; and others have responded that yes, they can, they have heard of just such a thing happening to so-and-so, up in such-a-place. I choose to believe that God was protecting us that day, and leave it at that.
(From Wikipedia.com: “A very intense supercell thunderstorm formed in Cherokee County, Alabama. A tornado spun out of the storm and headed toward Piedmont. At 11:39 a.m., a tornado slammed into the Goshen United Methodist Church collapsing the roof on a congregation during Palm Sunday services. It claimed 20 lives and injured 90. The tornado was an F4 on the Fujita scale. The supercell that formed this tornado ended up tracking for 200 miles to South Carolina.”)