Seek shelter – or not

Published 3:01 pm Friday, November 28, 2008

I don’t know about you, but when my weather alert radio sounds a warning, and the television is broadcasting tornado “Warning,” not watch, alerts for Bainbridge and Southeast Decatur County, I seek shelter in an interior room or closet, just as I am advised to do.

Readers may already know about my dog, Gabby, who takes to the bathtub at the first clap of thunder. That is probably over-kill on her part, but I have been through tornadoes before and when the watch becomes a warning, I react.

My earliest recollection of tornado threats was as a child at my grandparents’ farm in northwest Missouri, an area well-known as tornado alley.

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My grandparents had an underground root cellar where they kept eggs, potatoes and other perishable foods to keep them cool. It was also our storm shelter.

There was no television or pieces of fancy prediction equipment to tell us of approaching storms, but my grandmother had an uncanny premonition ability that was as reliable as any falling barometer or Doppler radar system known to man.

When she told us kids to get to the storm cellar that a bad storm was coming, we didn’t question it, we went.

I have actually seen small twisters bouncing along on the horizon as I descended the cellar stairs. I also recall at least two occasions when persons from neighboring farms came to the house all disheveled to report they had been wiped out by a tornado.

Luckily, that never happened at Granny’s house, but we were prepared.

I also recall a tornado system that wiped out Xenia, Ohio, in 1974 and the same night ripped through Kenton, Ohio, where I was living. My husband and son watched it from the front porch and took pictures. I, on the other hand took shelter. Luckily, it dodged our house.

My closest encounter was in Haleyville, Ala., in 2001. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. My husband and I had gone to town to buy groceries. Sensing that a bad storm was on the way (I think I inherited some of Granny’s abilities), I told my husband to just buy the milk we needed and let’s get on home—quickly. I didn’t like the way it felt. I stayed in the car while he ran in to the Piggly Wiggly. When the first wave of rains hit, I made the wise decision to drive up close to the store exit so he wouldn’t get so wet running to the car.

It was right after that I realized I was in the middle of a tornado. Debris was flying all around me. I couldn’t see it because it was raining so hard, but I could hear things hitting the car and the building. Being convinced I was in a dire situation I told myself I had to get out of the car and into the supermarket, but the wind was so strong I couldn’t open the car door. That was probably a good thing. It seemed like an eternity before I managed to get the passenger side door next to the building open and run inside the store, where I found people lying in the aisles.

When the storm passed we discovered most of the downtown had been destroyed by what turned out to be a F-2 tornado. Piggly Wiggly was only 40 yards from the center of the storm and escaped without damage. The drive home was a revelation as we saw how badly the town had been torn up. Many streets were closed by fallen trees and debris, and we wondered what we would find at our house as we sought alternate routes to get there.

Our trees were filled with litter that had blown out from downtown, but the house was OK. The neighbors who watched the storm approach reported the funnel lifted just as it passed over our houses.

We experienced another tornado touch down in Hoover, Ala., while staying in a motel in the Birmingham suburb.

So, I consider myself well trained in the matter of taking shelter. When the television map shows the funnel cloud headed toward me, I seek immediate shelter. A recent Friday night was just such an evening at the Iamon household.

My walk-in closet is my designated “safe room.” When I heard the heavy rain and high winds, I took my dog, Josie, and a flashlight and retreated to the closet to sit on a little step-stool and wait for the storm to pass.

My husband, however, continued to monitor the situation on the TV.

At one point he stuck his head in the closet to see how we were doing and made the comforting observation that if all the shoes stored on my closet shelves ever came down on me I would no doubt be instantly killed.

I believe in the future Josie and I will need to find another shelter—or else I am going to have to get rid of a lot of shoes.