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The Kirksville Cyclone of Aught-Nine
I've debated about whether or not I should write about my experience in our tornado. I didn't see as much as other people, I'm not sure I have any special insights into what happened, and I wasn't affected by the tornado nearly as much as some other people in the community. So why write about it?
I realized, though, that a lot of you who read this are personal friends of me and my family and may have been wondering how we're doing. Some of you have called with concerns, and we appreciate it. Others of you may have feared the worst when you heard nothing from us. I know a lot of you would really like to know what's happened.
I also just feel a need to get this out. We've had a very eventful 48 hours and writing it down is my way of processing it. So for better or worse, here's my story.
May 13, 5:45 pm. It was Wednesday night, which is when we normally go to church for a meal, fellowship, and worship. Eva had been running a fever for several days and we weren't sure we wanted to take her. I had heard on the radio that we were under a tornado watch, and I told Erika this, but these things usually amount to nothing so we didn't think much of it. Erika really wanted to go to church so we decided she could go with Daniel and I'd stay home with Eva.
As soon as Erika pulled her car out of the garage, we heard the tornado sirens start. Erika quickly did a u-turn and came back into the house. With Daniel crying about not getting to go to church, we hustled the kids into the basement bathroom. I was in no big hurry. Like I said, in my experience growing up in Nebraska these things usually amount to nothing. We usually go sit downstairs with a radio, wait for the all clear, and come upstairs again. Later we find out the tornado touched down five or ten miles from our home. I even grabbed a seat for Eva and the dinner I had warmed up for so we would be ready to give her a bath and put her to bed as soon as we were done.
6:00 pm. We were all sitting downstairs in the bathroom, trying to keep the kids calm and occupied, when the a powerful wind started blowing and the power went out. Daniel started to cry, but we told him everything would be okay. I could hear the wind picking up, and it felt like it was blowing into the room. I asked Erika if she had closed the windows, and she said she left them cracked just a little bit, so that they wouldn't get blown out by high winds. Smart woman.
Daniel was getting scared, and he asked if we could close the door to the bathroom. We told him that if we did that we wouldn't have any light. He said he wanted to close it, so we did. So we were all sitting in the dark, Erika holding Eva and me holding Daniel, rocking him and assuring him of how totally safe we were, when I started feeling wind blowing in under the door. I started feeling a little scared myself.
The whole time, though, I was telling Daniel, "It's okay. Sometimes when we have a big storm we go sit downstairs in the bathroom, because it's the safest place in the house." Erika told him it was like we were having a party. In the dark.
Then the pipes started rattling and we could hear water gurgling and bubbling. "What's that noise?" Daniel asked.
"What noise?" I asked, not really wanting yet to think about think about it myself.
"That noise," Daniel insisted.
"Um, that's just some water in our pipes." I really had no idea what to tell him. I had never been through something like this before.
6:15. The wind sounded like it had calmed down, more or less. I decided to go upstairs to get a battery-powered radio. At this point, I still had no idea what had gone past us. There was a very strong wind, sure, but I didn't expect any more than that. I took a quick peek out our front window and saw leaves and shingles scattered absolutely everywhere. I glanced out a rear window and saw our very large pine tree half-draped across our deck.
I grabbed the radio, went downstairs, and told Erika, "I have some bad news."
"Yeah?" she cautiously asked.
"How much did you like the tree in the back yard?"
Talking about it later, I found out that Erika, apparently much more aware of the real danger we had just been in moments before, upon hearing me say I had some bad news, was expecting me to tell her the roof was missing our a wall was gone.
6:30. According to the radio the tornado warning was officially over, so we went upstairs and started looking around. Our tree was definitely a goner, almost completely severed from its base.
We went out the in the street and joined our neighbors in surveying all of the damage. It was immediately obvious that we had lucked out. Everybody had downed trees and limbs, many of them fallen on their homes. The house next to us was missing most of its shingles.
As we walked a couple hundred feet to the north the damage got much worse. From our street we could see houses the next street over that were demolished: walls missing, roofs completely gone.
Daniel thought it was a lot of fun to be out walking around in our street with the firefighters checking to see if everybody was okay, and the helicopters constantly flying overhead. After we realized there really wasn't anything for us to do outside, we came back in, ate a little dinner by candlelight, bathed the kids in the last of our hot water, and put them to bed.
Only then did I have a chance to talk to Erika about all that had happened, and how truly frightened we were, despite the calm front we put on for the kids. From the way Daniel was holding up, we wondered if he really understood what kind of danger we had been in. We were really only beginning to realize ourselves how close we had been to losing our house, or worse.
The next day things didn't calm down much. Some men from our church came over with chainsaws and worked all morning sawing our three into pieces and hauling it away.
Meanwhile, a fleet of electrical trucks descended on our neighborhood to repair all of the downed lines. In the midst of all this, Erika noticed something leaking out of Eva's ear, which probably indicated an infection. She called the doctor and was told to bring Eva in right away.
A couple of hours later Erika returned to find our street completely blocked off by the utility crews, who wouldn't let anybody past for any reason. She called me for help, so I got in the car and drove toward where she was. I had to cajole my way through several sets of roadblocks to get to her (it seems that if you tell people in a distraught voice that your wife and one-year-old daughter were stranded while trying to return home from the doctor, they will accommodate you). I got to Erika and had her follow back through the roadblocks, angering at least one very cranky utility worker in the process.
By this point our friends had gotten the tree out and Daniel was tired out from running around outside, helping pick up tree limbs, and gawking at the helicopters and airplanes that were still surveying the area.
We got the kids some lunch and put them down for a nap, after which we decided we deserved a little nap ourselves.
We were awakened by the sound of our insurance adjuster knocking at the door, who, it turned out, was from Erika's sorority pledge class. She had been called up from St. Louis to help with the flood of insurance claims. "Awesome!" Erika thought. The adjuster's visit brought the welcome news that we would be receiving a new roof and deck, plus compensation for other minor damage. We were starting to realize that, aside from being very lucky to have our house intact, we would be coming out of this fairly well, in terms of repairs to our house.
After the kids woke up we took a walk with the stroller so that I could get out and see the neighborhood north of us. There were houses with their roofs or walls missing, and their contents strewn all over their lawn.
This was the path of the tornado. Seeing people who had no homes made us feel pretty bad about our own great fortune, following so closely after the visit from our insurance adjuster. This guilty feeling has persisted through all of our talking about the tornado: Whenever somebody asks us how we're doing we stress how very lucky we are, which just reminds me of the corollary: that there are others who were not lucky.
Since that time we've spent our time trying to function in a home with no electricity, constantly repacking ice in our cooler so we can keep milk and juice for the kids, and going out to our friend's house in the evening for a hot meal, a relatively minor inconvenience that reminds us all the more of what spoiled lives we lead normally.
We've realized that Daniel was affected by the tornado much more than we expected at first. While his first reaction, like I said, was excitement over the firefighters and the helicopters, he's since shown signs of processing his experience through classic examples of child psychology. Eva has a toy house she got for her birthday, and Daniel has been using it to re-enact our experience. "Oh no, there's a big storm," he'll say, "Let's all go downstairs to the basement."
Friday morning we got another big thunderstorm, and Daniel started acting worried. We sat down to a candlelit breakfast and Eva started crying for some food. Daniel said, "Eva's scared of the storm." After exchanging knowing smiles, Erika and I reassured her: "It's okay, Eva. It's just a thunderstorm. We're not going to have another tornado."
The storm delayed the utility crews most of the day Friday, but by working during the brief lulls they were finally able to restore power Friday night. After 48 hours things are starting to feel a little bit normal again.
Thank you to everyone who called us or prayed for us. You can continue to pray for all the people in our community who are going to require much more time, effort, and money to put their homes back together.
Like everyone else, I glad that you and your family came out of the storm relatively unscathed. I wasn’t informed until recently about the magnitude of that storm. The pictures of the houses of your neighbors certainly tell the tale, though.
Kyle, I have to confess that until mom told me about it, I hadn’t heard anything about the tornado in Kirksville. I’m so glad you were all safe in the basement, and that everything came out okay for you. I’m glad, too, that you wrote your story down. Daniel and Eva will appreciate having that story someday.
Glad to hear that you’re safe. I’d heard bad weather went through your area and was kind of curious.
I’m Kyle’s aunt Carole and wanted to share that my family went through TWO such experiences, both times being spared the full hit of a tornado. First time was 1975 in Omaha. Chris was 2 1/2 & Caroline was 3 months. This tornado was historic for Omaha and did extensive damage. The sirens went off around supper time and we ran for the basement. Could see the wall cloud from the window and hung on for dear life. A tree limb hit the roof of our duplex. About three blocks away whole houses were destroyed. We were without electricity and water, so took the kids home to Grandpa & Grandma in Osceola. Second time was 1980 in Grand Island –also historic. President Carter came to survey the damage, which was extensive. Fujito (?) the tornado researcher flew over and saw unique characteristics he’d never seen before. Again no electricity or water. Chris was 7, Caroline 5 & Cameron 18 months. But we roughed it drinking only juice. Caroline says she’s still scared whenever there are storm warnings out. So I never mess around when there are storm warnings out. Won’t go anywhere or do anything other than sit near a basement. Thankful you are all okay and that the damage to your house was relatively minor.
Oh My! that is really a great environmental attack. Hope everyone is okay there.
I think you made a right decision here of posting about the tornado. This can help warn other to take care and be careful at all times.
What a huge damage it has caused. This post will serve as a warning to everybody as we cannot predict when and what time a natural disaster will come.
Good to know that everyone is safe when the tornado occurred. It was a very frightful disaster.
That’s what I’m afraid of. Tornado is very dangerous.
I fear that my country will also experience this. I hope not. This is such a disaster and I don’t know if we’ll be able to cope up.