Thursday, April 19, 2012

On Being Flippant: A Cautionary Tale...

Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut with that last blog post...

Gov. Mary Fallin requested a federal disaster declaration Wednesday for Woodward County for damage caused in a tornado that killed at least six people and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and businesses early Sunday. The designation would free up low-interest loans and grants for uninsured damage caused by the tornado.

“Last weekend's deadly tornadoes led to the tragic loss of six lives and destroyed or severely damaged many homes and businesses,” Fallin said. “Having spoken with many of the residents in Woodward who lost everything, I know how important it is to do everything in our power to quickly rebuild this community. This disaster declaration would be an important first step in helping residents and businesses get back on their feet.”

It hit late Saturday night after many people thought the main tornado danger was over. Six dead, at least 89 homes and 13 businesses completely destroyed and many others damaged. We rode it out in the saferoom, but it ended up passing north and west of us.

If you've never experienced a tornado, it's hard to adequately describe the sense of absolute powerlessness you have in the face of it. Witnessing a tornado from the chaser's position of observational detachment, that feeling of powerlessness manifests itself as an exhilarating sense of sheer awe and wonder at the sight of something so incredibly powerful and violent.

But witnessing a tornado from a position of acutely vested interest (in your home, your family, your life...), that sense of powerlessness isn't quite so exhilarating. Watching as a tornado comes your way and knowing there's not a damn thing you can do about it is about as perfect a metaphor for helplessness as my feeble mind can muster. And when it comes in the dead of night, it's that much worse.

For a good idea of how terrifying nighttime tornadoes are, watch this short video of stormchaser Marty Logan tracking the tornado as it comes into Woodward. Marty is a chaser for the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City and a guy I've chased with a number of times. He's the one I was with the night of the infamous Greensburg, Kansas tornado.

But Marty is also a retired Woodward firefighter, and it was obviously hard trying to stay focused on his job as a twister was destroying a big chunk of his hometown. He did a helluva job that night, and is directly credited with saving lives with his on-air reporting, as lightning had knocked out many of the city's sirens. I know we were certainly hanging on his reports as we hovered near the saferoom door (You'll have to ignore the douchebag hawking cars at the beginning...)

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