Like so many others living in the South, I’m still in a bit of shock over the devastating tornadoes that touched down in 5 states, including Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia last Wednesday, April 27. I’ve lived in Georgia over 15 years and have seen the damage from tornadoes that rolled through the suburbs north of Atlanta, as well as the one that came through the city itself a couple of years ago. Although our house was several miles from the path of the tornado, I will never forget the sound I heard, not so much like the “freight train” that most people describe, but a high-pitched whine, like a jet engine.
Unlike my husband, who spent many years in Alabama, I never grew up with the threat of tornadoes at my back door. I grew up in NYC, where the biggest weather events we were likely to experience were Nor’easters and the occasional hurricane. However, I was surprised when I was visiting my parents last July and NYC came under a tornado warning. Suddenly, it felt like no place was safe from twisters.
The series of storms that spawned the tornadoes last week were unlike anything most people will ever experience. My friend Megan, who lives north of Huntsville, texted me during the day, describing how one tornado after another was coming through the area. Later in the day, texts from her stopped and the phone went straight to voicemail and my worry level increased tenfold. I actually cried – when her husband posted on Facebook the following morning that they were OK. Their house was intact, but many of the areas nearby were destroyed. Later, I spoke with Megan and she listed places I’d been to or driven past during my visits to see her and told me which ones were no longer standing.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to see the place I lived and grew up in completely obliterated. And yet, thousands of people throughout the South who survived the storms witnessed just that. Entire communities and a way of life were wiped out in a matter of moments. Despite the warnings, there was very little most people could do because the tornadoes were so powerful and kept on coming. Despite the tragic loss of life, it’s a miracle that as many people survived as they did.
Tornadoes do not discriminate. If you’re fortunate not to be in the direct path of one, be very grateful. We were concerned here in the Atlanta area about the storms headed our way, but we experienced nothing more than a big thunderstorm. We were lucky – this time. Tornadoes are a reality in the South. Until we had that one roll through Atlanta a couple of years ago, I mistakenly believed that tornadoes generally didn’t come through large cities. Then there were the ones that touched down in NYC, of all unimaginable places. Now I take the weather alerts far more seriously.
My husband generally doesn’t get that nervous about potentially tornadic activity. He said that when he was growing up, if there was a tornado warning, they’d all sit around the dining room table, hold hands and pray. They didn’t have basements or storm shelters and had to rely on the grace of God. However, he was just as shaken as I was at the news reports and updates on Twitter with images and descriptions of complete and utter devastation. This was not some far-away place; this was the state he grew up in, cities he’s been to. And like so many other people in the South, we either know people who were directly affected or know someone who knows someone that was affected.
There’s something truly awe-inspiring about watching a powerful thunderstorm. However, after something like this happens, how can you ever really feel safe in your home again?
(Photo credit: Emory University Tornado Preparedness Campaign)