Neverthless, here is the unedited first half of our story...
May 22, 2011
Our family: Chuck (39 years), Melody (32 years), Prewitt (8.5 years), Maggie (6.75 years), Ian (3.5 years), Bear (newly 3 years), Caleb (just about 2.5 years), and unborn baby
Our family had made the decision in August 2010 to move closer to family. Prewitt had broken his arm and although I happened to have a friend over at the time of the fall and break, I felt very alone because there was no one to call to help at the “drop of a hat.” We decided it was best for our little family to move closer to Chuck’s parents who live in Bella Vista, Arkansas. In December Chuck submitted his resume for a job I found on-line for a Division Controller in Quapaw, Oklahoma. This job was not too far from his parents and was a great career move for him. He told me, “I’m going to get that job.” And he did. He and Prewitt moved down to his parents’ house at the beginning of March for Chuck to start the job and start searching out areas for us to live. The plan was for me and the other 4 kids to join them once a new home was purchased (and hopefully our Ohio home sold…it is still for sale at the time of this writing). That process took longer than expected. Nevertheless, we happily settled on Joplin as our new destination (about a 20 minute drive for Chuck to work…there is pretty much nothing around Quapaw) and we moved into our new home on 2801 S. Winfield around the first of May.
The house was not our dream house, but it worked for our family. It had about 3300 sq. feet, a pool, enough bedrooms for our growing brood, a nice kitchen, and a fenced yard. It did need a good bit of updating and correcting of do-it-yourself-gone-bad projects but we were ready to settle down and make this our “forever home.” We LOVED that pool!!! The weather was still fluctuating between the occasional hot day, moderate days with cold nights, and some chilly days. We were absolutely oblivious to the fact that that combination of weather is what makes April and May prime tornado season.
On May 22, 2011 we were set to have a great day. Chuck and I had gone out to dinner the night before as an early 12th anniversary celebration (our anniversary is on the 23rd) and were feeling quite lovey-dovey all that day, too. We tried out our first Joplin church that morning—church “shopping” is WAY difficult with 5 children, especially when the majority of the children are as young as ours are—and grilled out and swam afterwards. I was able to take a nap in the afternoon with the little boys; it was a great day.
A little before 5pm the wind started to pick up a bit. It didn’t seem odd because every day had been really windy and we had seen some crazy rain storms in the past few days. The two neighbor girls who had befriended us seemed freaked out and left quickly to get home. I started to clean up the pool toys and put away toddler riding toys just in case we would have a bad storm. Around 5:15pm the tornado siren sounded. Chuck and I looked at each other and I think I even said, “What does that mean?” We went outside to look at the sky—sunny, a few clouds, but not really stormy looking. We decided that it probably was best to hunker down inside for the night. **I must note that we did NOT have internet or cable at the time. The local cable company was scheduling to re-lay the cable line because the previous owners of our home let it be cut when they installed the pool. We had no media by which to look at the weather forecast and hear the warnings being sent.**
Maggie put on a movie for her, Prewitt and Bear to watch, Ian was hanging out with Chuck, and Caleb was wandering around the house looking for me. I went upstairs to the master bedroom to try to log onto my neighbor’s WIFI and email my Ohio girlfriends; incidentally, I had been planning on telling them how much I liked Joplin and how glad I was that we had moved down here.
I was unable to log on and looked out the window to see if the wind was turning into a storm of some sort. I looked down the street that ran perpendicular to and ended at our home and it was black, so black at the end of the street. Normally, I would be able to see for a mile or so, I couldn’t see past a block and a half or so. I looked out the window to the rear of our home and it was sunny and bright. Then I noticed very loud cracking and the windows undulating, like they were struggling to breathe. I called down to Chuck thinking that I needed him to tell me what was going on—it was too strange for me to put together. Just as I called out his name I heard him yell, “CRAWL SPACE NOW!!!” I was very confused and was at the top of the stairs calling Caleb who was in my room. He wasn’t coming when I called so I ran back to get him—he was just staring out the window, pointing, he must have been confused and scared, too. I grabbed him, he was naked due to the swimming earlier that hour and the fact that I was getting ready to bathe the little boys. I grabbed a few blankets out of the linen closet; I kept thinking about my mother-in-law telling me to make sure everyone is clothed in a tornado because of all the debris flying around and all 3 of my boys were naked, naked, naked. I bolted down the stairs, around the corner, and through the kitchen to the garage. Really, it was all just a few seconds for me to get Caleb, the blankets and get to the garage where the mouth to the crawl space was. By the time I was in the garage the lights were flickering and the sound of the storm was overwhelming us. I remember kind of laughing to myself that this was happening after such a great day but I never once thought it was a tornado. However, by the time I was in the garage with Chuck, Prewitt, and Caleb in my arms it was completely dark. I mean, DARK. If you’ve ever gone on a natural cave tour, there is usually a time in the tour that all the lights are turned off so you can experience “true” darkness, absolutely no natural light. That was how dark our garage was. I told Chuck I couldn’t see the opening of the crawl space. He told me just to get down. I held Caleb as tightly as I could and huddled down as close to the ground as I could squat. Chuck was kind of hunched over me and I hate to remember that I had no idea where Prewitt was. I assumed that Chuck was holding on to him, but apparently Prewitt was holding onto Chuck’s shirt and squatted next to him, but not being held by either of us. Chuck told me that he felt God tell him NOT to get into the crawl space in the dark as the storm was on top of us. Had we done that we could very well have been fatally injured as the house was picked up and the bottom floor slammed back down.
A few seconds earlier Chuck had helped Maggie into the crawl space and kind of threw Ian and Bear in there. Maggie has told me it was very dark and scary in the crawl space and that Ian was crying very loudly but that she told herself that she needed to be quiet and sit still to be safe. Poor girl…such big thoughts to have to deal with at such a young age.
**For those of you who don’t know what a crawl space is…it is a space between the earth and the floor of the home, usually 2-5 feet in depth. You will find a crawl space in most homes with cinder block footings. Ours was about 4 feet deep and was accessed through a 3’x5’ opening in the garage wall. So, we would climb down into the space to seek shelter from any tornadoes. Yeah, not the best situation to be in when facing and EF5 tornado.**
Pretty much as soon as we were hunched in a ball together the house started to lift away. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I felt us being pulled into the tornado. You know that feeling when you are kind of free-falling on a roller coaster ride? When you are at the very top of a big fall and you come up off your seat? That is what I felt as we were being sucking into the tornado. We were moving along our garage floor, just being vacuumed along. All of the sudden we were falling down. Chuck fell backwards, I fell forward with Caleb and landed top half down, and from my waist down I was still up in the garage, teetering on the edge of the garage foundation. Apparently we fell down into the space previously occupied by the furnace.
...to be continued