Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Yesterday with horror I watched the Oklahoma City area hit with another terrorist attack...but this time the terrorist was Mother Nature.  TV coverage on MSNBC and CNN switched to local TV station  coverage and I watched the tornado develop, destroy, and pictures immediately transmitted by TV helicopters after the hit. I saw the disaster play out just as those in Oklahoma saw it.

 I grew up in Oklahoma's tornado alley and I understand the terror of it all.
After the Joplin tornado, I wrote a column with my memories of what it was like to live under the threat of the storms as a child, well before Doppler Radar, techniques to survive, and a warning system to take cover. I have reproduced that column here:

Reports of Woodward, OK being hit by a tornado shortly after midnight today, with at least 5 killed,  reminded me of a post on this blog in June 2011 shortly after the Joplin tornado.  Woodward figured prominently in that post, as well. Early reports indicate the tornado warning system failed this time;  in the past, there were no warning systems and the earlier tornado killed over 100. Excerpts from that 2011 post : "I was born and raised in tornado alley so spring was a time of terror for me. The pictures of Joplin, Mo., brought back some familiar pains in the pit of my stomach and memories.

My home town, Muskogee, Okla., is 125 miles south west of Joplin, and Joplin was on the way to grandmother's house in southwestern Missouri. My 1940s childhood memory of Joplin was a pit stop to fill up the gas tank.

When tornado season came I huddled in my bed on the second floor of our wood frame house, waiting for death to come. It never did, but I resolved never to live near tornado land again.

The Wizard of Oz story never had much credibility with me. I never thought I would wake up from a fantastic dream because I knew I would be sucked up and die in a funnel cloud.

Looking back on those times, I probably was realistic. There were no tornado sirens, no Doppler radar, and no storm shelters. The closest cellar was in a neighbor's home nearly a block away. All we were educated to do was to go to the southwest corner of the building. We knew no more than that. We were just sitting ducks waiting to be plucked up. The myth had always been that Muskogee was immune because it sat down in the Arkansas valley. One April day in 1945 the myth was blown away by a tornado that devastated the east side of the town. Two children were killed and my father, a telephone company executive, took me on a tour of the destruction, which only reinforced my terror of spring.

Two years later the Woodward tornado in the southwestern corner of the state killed more than 100 people. I remember the radio reports, newspaper's screaming headlines, and my parents talking about it. It was since that terrible episode that records began to be kept of death and destruction caused by tornadoes in the U.S. Joplin 2011 was the worst."

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