As tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of the devastating tornado that took my parents and grandparents homes, the homes of dozens of other families, and the lives of three of our citizens, I decided to post this unfinished blog that I started at the end of that day on November 17, 2013. I never actually published it. I'm not sure why I never came back and finished it. The memories after this point in the story are very raw and still a bit tough to deal with after seeing the devastation. So if you do read this, please know up front that this small manuscript only tracks an hour or so of what happened during and after the tornado. Maybe one day I'll go back and finish up the story. But for right now, I will just let this be. Tonight I am thinking of and praying for all of those that were and who still are being affected by the Brookport Tornado. Please join with me in remembrance.
Today was going to be like any other Sunday. Em and I had the usual plans...church, lunch with friends, nap, choir practice, church again, late dinner, sleep. What was supposed to be a normal day became anything but "normal." More like "unforgettable." I'm still trying to take it all in right now, but I felt like I should go ahead and document this tremendously exhausting and emotional day. This is a story of devastation and death, but also of hope and faith.
Em and I had lunch with our friends Garrett, Cassandra, and their daughter Emma. We were at Olive Garden when we got the Tornado Warning for McCracken County on our phones. Even though Garrett and I were wanting to go do a little browsing at Lowe's, Em insisted that we head back to our house until the store passed. On the way home I called my dad's cell phone to see where they were. I knew they had been traveling back home from an out of town funeral and I wanted to make sure they were ok. Mom said they were about an hour away from being home but there were no signs of severe weather.
After we got home we turned on the local news. I was shocked when the meteorologist said that there was a tornado that was passing over my hometown of Brookport, IL which is roughly 10 minutes away from where Em and I live in Paducah. Due to other tornado warnings in the area, I called mom again and told her and dad to pull over somewhere off the interstate to take shelter. I told her that I would call my grandma and check on her. My grandparents live just right down the street from mom and dad's place.
When I called my grandma, I could immediately tell that something was wrong. She was hysterical and said that a window had been blown out during the storm and there was other significant damage. I assured her that I would be right over as soon as the storm had passed. After calling both of my brothers to check on them and their families, Garrett and I changed clothes and headed out through the rain on our way to Brookport.
As we got on the road the storm was still raging. Garrett talked to our pastor on the phone who told us that the Brookport Bridge was closed so we immediately got on the interstate. The sun came out and the rain ceased as we got into Illinois. We were about 3 miles outside of Brookport when my grandma called me on my phone. She asked where I was and I told her I was almost to our house. Then she said "Ryan, your mom and dad's house is gone. It's gone!" I was shocked at the words and couldn't believe what I was hearing. I figured she was still rattled from the situation and maybe a little disoriented. But still, there was a pit in my stomach that only grew larger the closer we got into town.
After making our way through several road blocks, Garrett and I finally parked the car and went out on foot to my parents and grandparents neighborhood. The closer we got, the more I could see that this situation was like something out of a movie. Devastation was everywhere. Tree limbs scattered all over the road. Debris sitting on top of the roof of the First Baptist Church. Gas lines spewing gas. Homes scattered out into the streets. Then I came to the block where I grew up.
My knees became weak and my stomach upset as I walked closer to my mom and dad's home. But the closer I got, the more I could see that grandma was right; the house just wasn't there! Tears began streaming down my face as the realization of what had happened to my parent's house. My house. Garrett and I walked down to grandmas. She was still shaken up but her and grandpa were ok. They had some damage to their roof and water was coming through the ceiling. Garrett who has always been a handyman, said he would look at the leak. I decided to go start looking for anything I could find of mom and dads.
As I walked up to the foundation of the house I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn't help it. I began to cry as I walked where my room used to me. I picked up pictures to save, only to see the faces of people I did not recognize. In fact, all of the debris that surrounded my parents property didn't even belong to them...
TO BE CONTINUED