I don't mean to focus on the past while ignoring the historic tornadoes our country is reeling from right now. Our daughter Becky has a personal perspective on them. The following is from her conversation with me this morning from EDMOND, OKLAHOMA:
Yesterday for 3-1/2 hours, one of a mass of large, multiple, long-track tornadoes swept up through Oklahoma City, killing several people. Rain was so heavy it was hard for meteorologists to locate and track individual tornadoes being spawned as the mass moved across three states.
Becky's husband David was stuck at Tinker Air Force Base, 30 miles from home, as weather reports jumped from "tornado watch" to "tornado warning." The local meteorologist's advisory went from "Go on about your lives" to "Everyone, get home!" to "Find shelter!" There was pandemonium at the news. Becky and just-ending-first-grade daughter Katherine, along with all the other parents and children at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Elementary School, scattered and raced home.
Becky and David live in an older residential neighborhood. There are only three basements on the block. The one they have gathered in before during close calls during their 14 years in Oklahoma is almost directly across the street and belongs to Miss Pearl, a 100-year old woman who insists on living there--alone--although her daughter keeps urging her to come to Nevada. Becky wasn't sure how she would get the fragile Miss Pearl into her own basement.
As the massive storm approached, Becky found herself responsible for the lives of a panicky 7-year old, a helpless but stubborn 100-year old, and a clingy Golden Retriever. "So here I am, the only functional person and I have this 60-pound dog attached to me--"
Jeff, the next-door neighbor, saw that David's truck wasn't in their driveway and went to check on her. (His wife was out of town.) Becky told him David hadn't been able to make it home in time and told him he was welcome to join them in Miss Pearl's basement--just as the meteorologist's advisory ratcheted up to "GET UNDERGROUND!"
They all raced across the street, battered by deafening wind and rain.
As it turned out, even if they could have figured out how to get her downstairs, Miss Pearl refused to go into the basement. (So did the dog.) Jeff insisted he would stay with the old lady. Becky made him step aside with her where she could tell him, "I can't let you stay above ground right next to the entrance to a tornado shelter! Your wife would never forgive me!"
Living alone, Miss Pearl can't maintain her house well. The basement was still flooded from a washing machine overflow weeks before but Becky says, "I didn't care how gross the basement was if it saved our lives." (I would be more worried about the danger of water getting into live wall sockets.)
The tornado swerved. It didn't hit Edmond. No one ended up needing the basement. A separate tornado bypassed David at Tinker and their older daughter in Moore. By 7:00 the emergency was over. For them.
But the tornado slammed into Piedmont. One house flattened by it belonged to a mother who tried to ride it out huddled in a bathtub with her three children. The four of them were thrown apart. She and a 5-year old daughter are in critical condition in a hospital. (Her baby in utero also survived.) Her 15-month old baby did not make it and her three-year old son is still missing. Her husband was out of town and couldn't get back until afterwards. Pray for them. (UPDATE: Three-year old Ryan's body was found this morning. May 26)
Every home in Tornado Alley should have a basement. Old homes weren't built with them and even new homes--incredibly--are not being built with them. That, as Becky says, is irresponsible. They should be written into the building code. Tornadoes can level or lift houses (one Yahoo account quoted someone as saying houses can become deadly missiles--just like they were in the recent Japanese tsunami) and sometimes the only safe place to be to survive is underground. (Hasn't anyone there learned anything from The Wizard of Oz?)
But she had nothing but praise for their meteorologists. "They're the best in the business. They took this seriously. They told us to go home. They did a great job. They tell us, 'We have the technology to know the conditions that produce tornadoes--May is the worst month--and to predict their course. There shouldn't be any deaths. We can do this!' We just have to listen to them, not take unnecessary risks. And we need to be able to get underground."
TODAY'S REGULARLY-SCHEDULED POST IS BELOW.