Tornado Damage

Tuesdays are normally my small group night. Last night almost everyone had a reason they couldn't make it. So I decided we would skip this week. I spent the early part of the day writing, then worked out between 2:00 and 3:00. I thought I would check my email before getting in the shower. And then I checked Facebook. Dora had just posted a plea for help.

Several families in our church lost their homes in the tornado. Dora posted on Facebook that one family was trying to pack up what they could of their belongings and the wife had called the office for help. Dora could tell that the whole situation was understandably overwhelming her. The only thing I had to do was go to the grocery store. My normal Tuesday evening plans had been canceled. So I let Dora know I could go over and help. A part of me wanted to see this situation up close and more personal. Another part of me didn't want to. But I knew I couldn't ignore the request. So I went.

The only tornado damage I have ever seen has been on the news, in the form of devastation happening to strangers. Nothing like this has ever hit so close to me. I have never before driven into a tornado ravaged neighborhood, let alone walked into a tornado ravaged house. The area I went to was just one of many neighborhoods in our community where homes were completely destroyed.

This family was at home when the tornado hit. The mother and kids went into a bathroom. The dad didn't have time to get out of the kitchen. They said that the tornado entered through one end of the house (totally destroying that side), blew through the interior and then blew out the other end of the house, pushing down an exterior wall as it exited. It literally picked up part of the house and set it back down. A construction crew had propped the wall back up, but you could still see daylight in the crack between the wall and the ceiling.

In the kitchen, all of the nicknacks were unmoved on top of the kitchen cabinets. But insulation was everywhere -- even inside the refrigerator. In the living room, pictures were still hanging on the walls. A heavy mirror was undisturbed over the fireplace. A big, heavy chest (full of stuff) had been moved out of its position and wedged between the walls of the hallway several feet from its original location. It had knocked a hole in the wall. However, a curio cabinet holding a collection of fragile steins was totally untouched and unmoved. On the front of the house, I saw where a large strip of bricks had been ripped off the front of the house. Tree limbs were in large piles all along the road. They had already been removed and sawed into pieces, ready to be picked up by the city. I heard that volunteers had shown up everywhere with chain saws right after the storm, helping victims remove debris.

The Hampton Inn offered rooms to victims free of charge for, I think, about ten days. So this family at least had a hotel room to go to. They are hopeful they can find a house quickly. They have three young kids. Our church is pretty large, so I hadn't met them before. But their name was familiar.

I didn't do all that much. I felt hugely inadequate for the task. I was overwhelmed by the situation and I was just there for a short time. I helped pack some of the kitchen and wrapped part of the stein collection. I stayed about three hours. Others from the church showed up and helped, too. And Dora told me last night that she got more offers of help that she will send today. I suggested shifts so that everybody isn't just getting in everybody else's way.

I don't know the names of every family who lost their home last Friday. And I'm sure you're already saying prayers for the victims. But I thought I would mention the Dishner family. They really need our prayers. Being there made it all so real and so personal. I tried to imagine how I would feel if I was walking through the rubble of my own home and what had been my life. Just being there, I knew I couldn't even imagine being in their shoes no matter how hard I tried.

On the bright side, not one of them was hurt in the tornado. They are all alive and unharmed. They still have each other, which is such a blessing. A young mother and her nine week old daughter will be laid to rest tomorrow. The memorial service is being held at Woodfin; the same chapel where we had Brittany's service almost six years ago.

I heard on the news this morning that John Bryant, the husband who lost his wife and daughter and was sucked through the roof of his house, told his family that it was not true they had tried to leave. The whole family was huddled in a room with a mattress on top of them. He had been sucked through the roof and can remember looking down at his baby girl as he was going up, up, up and flying away. At some point, he blacked out. The mom was found underneath rubble in a neighbor's front yard. They could hear her moaning and she died shortly thereafter. A friend who was helping pack yesterday told me that a medical crew had worked on the baby, trying to revive her, for a long time. I don't know how in the world the story ever got started that the mother had just put her baby in the car. But sometimes wrong assumptions are made in the chaos and then get repeated over and over. This can be very hurtful to the families and add to their suffering. I know a lot of people questioned the reasoning of leaving the house under these circumstances. And it turns out not to even be true.

I know one thing; I will never again take tornado warnings lightly.

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