Friday, April 3, 2015

Rounding Out the Tornado Stories

As a bit of a follow-up to the Palm Sunday tornado memory, I'll relay a few other of my tornado experiences.

I worked for a period in time at our Decatur Illinois Power offices.  I'd go down Monday, stay the week and return Friday afternoon.  Good friends had just had a new baby and I stopped to see them on my way home.  This sweet little girl (Ashley) slept the entire time I was visiting with her mom and I was at the front door ready to leave when she woke.  I came back to cuddle her and after a bit, the tornado siren went off.  We hovered on the basement steps until all was clear and then I left for home.  As I drove Highway 50 outside Decatur it was apparent a tornado had ripped across the highway right where I would have been traveling had that sweet little baby not woke.  I still think of her as my "life saver" and know that she was part of a Blessing.

Another Decatur event happened when I was in a meeting in the south portion of Decatur.  Several other women had rode with me.  As the afternoon wore on (and on), we began to hear reports that severe weather was approaching.  (A utility has some of the best weather prediction you can imagine to be as well prepared as possible.)  As a group, we decided to bail out of the meeting and be out of the bad weather before it hit Decatur.  We were skirting around downtown by traveling through the country.  All of a sudden the sky turned black, it started raining horizontal which turned to hail and then - THEN as I was still driving forward, the car started being pushed sideways across the road.  One of the women saw what appeared to be a driveway entrance, I turned in, drove to the garage door, we jumped out and banged on the door.  This kindly older gentleman allowed us inside and we convinced him it was a tornado and we all needed to be in his basement.  It was and we did.  He had no damage but he did get quite the story about a carload of women descending and forcing him into his basement.

Since there were several of us who stayed during the week in motels in Decatur, we had devised a plan for when there was a tornado warning and we were at the motel.  Motels have no basement and aren't all that structurally fortified.  The plan was we gather at the hot tub, take our shoes off, roll up our pant legs and sit around the edge.  If a tornado hit, we'd dive into the water.  It wasn't deep enough to drown, it wasn't wide enough to let the beams fall on us, there wasn't a lot of glass, it was underground and misery loves company.   Those that loved beer soon learned to have a 6 pack in their room for such occasions.  Me, I had a bag of candy.  

When the IP Kewanee office was open, we had initiated tornado drills.  Although a cement block building, it had no basement.  The office personnel were to gather in the ladies' lounge/restroom.  It was an inside cement brick two rooms with no windows.  One of our funniest women (Jan) taped a pack of her Camel cigarettes to the plumbing pipes because she knew if we were hit she'd want a cigarette.  I asked her to tape two packs because even though I'd quit smoking, I knew if we were hit we'd all want one, too.  

I managed the Galesburg IP area when we built the new facility and we were in the middle of a wonderful all employee meeting about what to do during a tornado warning.  I went through the places to go and what to do.  A few employees were still not satisfied because we didn't have a basement.  This was before buildings were placing fabricated units into their design.  It had digressed into what to do for every possible situation and what I personally was going to do to save them.  There was nothing I could say that made them happy and the tone was getting angry.  I had finally reached the limit of patience.  I then made the totally inappropriate politically incorrect direction that if they did all that I had instructed and we suffered a direct hit, they should bend over and kiss their "you know what" goodbye because there was nothing more I could do for them.  At that point, they no longer had questions. 

I was home in Galva one evening when a F-4 tornado hit the town.  We had rode it out in the basement and had no damage.  As the manager of the Kewanee area, I was charged with heading up any storm/emergency restoration and so got in my company car to assess the damage.  It was pretty extensive (150 homes/one injury) and telephone communications were disrupted (this was prior to cell phones.)  I used my car radio to relay the damage and soon we had crews on the way.  We headquartered from my house.  In spite of it not being by the book, it worked well.  My dining room became storm central and the front room was often a place the crews sat for a bit to regroup and rest.  Sometimes you do the best you can with what you have - and we did.

And that's about it for tornado stories and I hope I don't have any new ones to tell in the future.

Note:  All pictures are of the Galva tornado and retrieved from the web.

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