Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Aftermath

This is the second installment of the recollections of a teenager as a tornado swept through Alpine Township on Palm Sunday, April 11 1965

Norma and I wanted to go and make sure our own families were okay but Kathy’s parents would not allow us to leave. They were right because no one knew what it was like out there, or what we would find. There could be broken gas lines, downed power lines, and worse, injured people. The thought of my own family being injured horrified me.

Shortly, Cathy’s older brother, who had not been home at the time of the storm, arrived. He was overjoyed to see his family free of injuries. When I asked if he thought it was safe for me to go home, he hesitated, and then told me that I best not go because my house too had been severely damaged. Norma asked about her home, and she learned that her home had been saved, and that it would be OK for her to leave, As we were being helped out of the basement, I told Cathy’s family that I was leaving and going with Norma to her house, which was just past my own house. Of course I had no intention of going with Norma; I wanted to go home and prayed my family was safe and uninjured.

The destruction we met as we left the basement was overwhelming. Kathy’s house was gone except for one brick wall. My sister’s car? It was totaled and buried in bricks. It was the least of my worries.

I pulled myself together gingerly, stepping over power lines and the debris that was scatted all over. As I reached the street I was met by a man who asked me what happened, and then continued to say that no one knew. I remembered seeing the clock at Cathy’s. It had stopped at 7:05 PM, twenty five minutes ago, if I went with the time the man had given me. I started to run down the street, all the homes were damaged, some pushed off their foundation. Others missing their roof, or entire walls. The house next to my home had been flattened as if blocks of dominoes. Where was Mrs. McDonald, the elderly lady who lived there?
Seeing my home standing gave me a little hope, although walls were blown out and a part of the roof was gone. I saw no family so I ran into the house shouting for them. My mother’s shaky voice came from a room in the basement located under the stairs. Rushing towards that area, I found my mother, my sisters, and my four nephews all under the age of 6, and all apparently uninjured. They had never made it into the basement, and had found safety under my parents bed. But where was my Dad? My Dad was a volunteer fireman, and had already begun rescue efforts. He had first checked on Mrs. McDonald next door and had found her covered with debris and with lacerations to her legs. My dad brought the neighbor to our house, and rushed to the fire station, to get help and set off the siren. My sister ran out to get someone to help and a man in a station wagon, a good Samaritan offered to take our neighbor to the hospital. As my sister and I began sharing stories about what happened, someone advised us to leave the house immediately, gas was escaping.

My sister grabbed two of the nephews, I grabbed another one, and my mom, injured by a dresser mirror that had fallen on her, grabbed the youngest nephew and we started up the stairs. My mother was in front of me and having trouble opening the broken door, and I dropped my nephew to the ground to help my mom with the door, we were met by a camera man who was shooting pictures. I thanked them sarcastically for his help and I doubt if he cared. My mom and nephew made the national news, so I guess the man got what he wanted.

After my family settled in at Norma’s house for the night, I went back out looking for my Dad. He was still out help organize clear paths for emergency vehicles. running up to him I was crying, and I asked him why he had not come over to Cathy’s house to see if I was OK, or come and got me? He looked at me through fatherly eyes, and then he just grabbed and hugged me. Later he told me that as he saw me in front of him that night; a cold chill had come over his heart. He had been so busy organizing help that he had forgotten all about the daughter who had not been home that evening. The adrenalin had kicked in and all that training for emergencies had taken over his thoughts.

This was not the end of the trials we were to face.


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