From Hackleburg to Harvest

Ten am. That was when we got the first tornado warning at work, meaning we all had to go to the designated shelter area.

“Trees down in near the county line,” a co-worker read aloud on her iPhone.

No more than 15 minutes later, we had returned to work. Around noon, we were all in the shelter area again. We moaned and groaned and laughed about who, “gets first dibs on the microwave when we get back.” That time, we were there for over an hour.

Around two that afternoon, Daniel called and said he was going to the house to check on things, since there had been reports of trees down near our area. He called via Skype on his iPad, and said there was no power at the house, and a tree was down in the backyard over the fence. He checked the weather, and said the best time to pick me up (we usually carpool) would be around 4 pm.

I checked with the girls at work and they were good staying until five, so I waited for Daniel to come pick me up. Around three, my co-worker answered her phone, and I could hear her husband on the other end: “We need to leave now. Tornadoes are everywhere.”

Just a few minutes later, my husband called from outside, once again using Skype on his iPad. “I’m here. I’ll meet you downstairs in two minutes.” I said okay and told my co-workers I was leaving. I walked downstairs and met Daniel. “We need to stop on the way home and get a battery radio,” he said. “I’ve already stopped at the dollar store; they didn’t have any.”

On the way home, we started to stop at Best Buy, but it was already closed. We then went to a Wal-Mart, and they didn’t have any battery radios either. We ended up with a hand-crank radio from sporting goods.

The drive home was meek – trees were already down everywhere from the morning storm. People were already out working – getting tarps on roofs. When we pulled into our street, we noticed a tree completely covering our neighbors house. We decided to take cover, and make a makeshift shelter in our bathroom with a mattress over our heads. We spent a good majority of the evening in the bathroom, laying on some blankets under the mattress, with a flashlight and our hand-crank radio, and pets climbing all over us.

We take turns cranking the radio. “Four minutes. Take cover now. Twelve minutes, take cover now.” It went on and on – one warning after another, one twister after another headed to our area.

We were saved.

By the blessed grace of God, it spared our home, and it spared our family.

We came out of the house around 9 pm, and walked to the top of our hill to pick up a very weak cell phone signal. Daniel’s first call: to his best friend, Bryan.

Bryan’s house.

Bryan and Lindsay’s house was gone. They’d been able to gather some of their belongings, but most of their clothes were gone. He couldn’t talk for long, and the cell service was in and out. He put his mom on the phone, who told Daniel that people down there were still trapped in a factory that had collapsed.

We went to bed with sirens blaring all around us.

The next day, not knowing much, I got up and went in to work. I realized we didn’t have power when I was pulling up into the parking lot.

“You know y’all aren’t working?,” someone said to me when I went inside. I texted my boss to confirm, and he texted back. That was one of the last texts I received until several days later.

I drove back home and met Daniel. I rode to work with him – one building there had a generator and we were able to charge my phone. That afternoon, we came home and rode over to check on Julie, a friend who lives near us. Her house was fine, and even the drive over was fine.

The drive back was not.

That’s when I found out.

Only one mile from our house, homes had been completely leveled.

The next week was spent in the dark – we’d go to Daniel’s work in the morning and go to bed at promptly at 8 pm. We volunteered in the afternoon when we could. Gas was in very short supply – we had to wait until Sunday to get it, and we had to drive 15 miles for it. Cell phone service was completely down where we lived – no data or texting either until Sunday. There was a dusk to dawn curfew in the entire county.

We got to know our neighbors and stocked up on tornado supplies – lots of tuna packs, soup we could heat on the grill, and batteries for a better radio. We listened to the radio – a lot. In comparison to so many others out there, we had it easy. We learned that two young couples from church had major damage, and one couple lost their new full-brick home and everything in it.

We rode bikes for miles – and even rode to the dollar store. Like a scene out of a movie, they were only letting one person at a time in – they’d lock the doors behind you and escort you through the store. People were simply walking down what are normally very busy highways.

Finally on Tuesday, power was restored to our area and I went back to a full day of work on Wednesday. I’d love to say things have returned to “normal,” but for so many people, life will never be “normal” again.

To make a donation, please visit redcross.org.

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