Monday, May 23, 2011
Yesterday afternoon we were driving west on I44 coming home from a friends beautiful wedding weekend in Illinois. It had already been a jammed packed whirlwind of a good time visiting with family and friends, breaking bread several times, and dancing late into the evening. The ride home was supposed to be uneventful and a little lazy. And it WAS, most of the way.
Honeybuns does all the driving, I do all the reading, texting, knitting and napping as we speed along.
We were about six hours into this eight hour drive when the excitement started. As we approached Joplin, MO the sky started turning dark so we tuned in the local radio station to hear what was happening up ahead. Sure enough, our suspicions were confirmed. A huge storm was brewing and the announcer was tracking tornadoes that had formed along the OK-MO counties.
I held the road map on my lap and tried tracking the names of the towns that were coming from that static filled news alert.
We heard the words, "a tornado is crossing I44 between mile marker 13 -18." WHAT?" We'd just quickly passed marker 18! It was directly in front of our car.
Other vehicles were whizzing down the road beside us. We were amazingly calm!!! Denial? Shock? Peace?
The sky turned black and the rain began. Everyone started slowing down as visibility was reduced to ZERO. I was texting friends and our youngest son. I felt like someone would need to know what happened to us if we didn't survive. Again, we were both amazingly calm.
A huge clunk of something hit the top of our car, I was sure it was ice. Honeybums somehow found an exit (8) and we crept along in the dark pouring rain. We turned off the road and saw a few hotels off to the right, cars lined up under the concrete porticoes.
He pulled up as close as possible to the cars huddled together at the Hampton Inn. A woman from the hotel came screaming out, yelling TORNADO, her face plastered against my window. She opened my car door and pulled me out into that blinding rain. I ran for the door and she shoved me into a darkened stairwell....twenty-five strangers were squeezed together there. Honeybuns was pushed in a few seconds later. That scene was surreal. I couldn't believe what had just happened. Again, all were amazingly calm.
SILENCE. We waited, people began talking and a baby cried. I met a man from Florida, off on a 40 day road trip with his wife, they'd just retired. A young girl from AZ was trying to connect to AT&T, she shared with me that they don't have storms like THIS where she lives! There were families, children, an elderly couple that seemed very confused.
About 20 minutes later, someone opened the stairwell door to take a peek. The rain was still coming down in sheets, the wind was blowing a gale. Folks trickled out into the dark lobby and watched. The hotel staff began passing out flashlights, directing guests to NOT return to their rooms. The electric doors were sealed. One guy had an ipad and could get the weather map. The dark red circle of wind on his screen was moving away from us. It had passed right over that Hampton Inn without touching down. Little did we know that at that very moment lives were being taken and property destroyed just a mile up the road.
The wind and rain finally let up a little and Honeybuns said, "let's go!" We were the first to leave. (No surprise there!) I wished my new friends good luck and they shouted back the same. Calmness prevailed once again!
We found our way back to I44 and headed west, leaving that darkened roadway and city behind us. We were the only cars on the road, but the sky was brighter and the rain had stopped. Dark clouds were forming again to the south and we watched them carefully.
After a few miles we realized why the highway was empty. Police were diverting all traffic onto the side roads, NO ONE was going to be allowed into the city of Joplin. Only ambulances and rescue vehicles with sirens blaring raced toward that city. The radio told us why! Walmart was gone, a hospital destroyed, houses were leveled, semis were overturned and cars had been lifted off the road and flung into ditches. We heard the words "devastation, " "war zone," and "it looks like a bomb has been dropped on Joplin." The "death count would be high."
We're safe, dry, and moving on with our lives today. That is not the case for our Missouri neighbors. At the moment the death toll is 89 and expected to rise!
I'm so sad for those people today. And so grateful for life.