The Tornado Hits Moody, Al.
It was April 27, 2011.
The meteorologists had been predicting an afternoon full of dangerous weather. We were repeatedly warned of a significant tornado outbreak. Having never been a fan of bad weather, I decided to monitor the situation very closely starting at noon. So as I went to bed the previous night, I made a mental note to put together an emergency kit the following morning and place it in the back walk-in closet, the centermost part of the house.
The next morning, around 6am, as I slept deeply, I dreamt of a large helicopter slowly landing on top of my house. The whoop whoop whoop of the blades came closer and louder as if they were going to crash through my bedroom and land on top of me. I stirred as my mind began to rouse me from the dream. Then I was jolted immediately wide awake at the sound of a loud crash, wood breaking and metal bending. It was NOT a dream. It was happening.
Leaping out of my bed, I screamed out my daughter’s name as I ran towards the door and the hallway leading to her bedroom. Panic filled my heart, rising up through my chest and through my mouth as, again, I screamed out her name.
Somehow I knew exactly what was happening. By the time I reached the bedroom door, both my daughter and my dog bolted in, terrified and instinctly headed towards the closet with me on their heels.
We heard the back windows smash and the wooden fence ripping apart. And the sound of heavy objects falling from the sky filled our ears. The entire ordeal only lasted a few horrifying minutes and then an eery calm descended. We stayed in the closet for a few more minutes, holding on to each other.
A loud pounding sound then filled my ears. My mind tried to form a thought of what that sound could be.
Hello? Are you alright?
It was the front door. I ran to the broken front door to see if someone needed help, and found it was neighbors checking on me. Even as I opened my mouth to assure them we were Ok… I turned to look into my daughter’s room.
The damage was immense. The front wall had been pushed in from the impact of my neighbor’s roof, which had struck the front of my house. But the sight that made me go numb was my daughter’s bed. The picture window had shattered and there were foot long shards of glass, like so many knives, sticking upright, having pierced her bed.
There was no way she would have survived had she been sleeping in her bed. (She later explained she had gotten up just a few minutes earlier to use the restroom). My mind refused to digest that scene, so I stepped outside and into a different world than the one that had existed the night before. Houses were missing entire stories, roofs, bricks, windows and doors. Neighbors were walking in the streets in pajamas and bathrobes, mouth agape at the sight of all the destruction.
My house had significant damage in the front of the house, the roof and attic and the back of the house (the fence was gone, windows and siding gone, the gas grill was mangled and even the outside AC unit had been moved off of the slab and been destroyed. Later we learned that the tornado hit the house across the street from me, sending his entire roof into the front of my house. Then the tornado jumped over my house (hence the helicopter noises). And then touched back down in the back causing the damaged earlier described.
But my family had not been hurt. No one in my neighborhood was seriously injured. But we were temporarily homeless. Our insurance put my daughter and I in a hotel for 8 weeks while the repairs were ongoing.
During the outbreak, which did occur that afternoon as predicted, multiple people were killed and even more injured. I knew how blessed we were to only suffer material losses.
The experience taught me two very valuable lessons…
I must always count my blessings and be grateful for what I have.
It was a miracle that the most important thing in my life, my daughter, was not hurt. She is normally extremely hard to get out of bed. We mused about that day and why she was not in her room when the tornado hit. She had roused before the alarm went off and was listening to the rain outside. (There was no thunder). She normally would roll over and sleep the extra minutes. This time, for a reason she could never explain, she decided to get up for the day. Just as she entered the restroom and closed the door, she heard what she thought was an explosion (it was the front door splitting and her front bedroom wall and window shattering. She ran into my bedroom and into the closet.
I lost many material possessions that day and had 50,000 worth of damage to my home, not counting contents. But I am forever grateful for what I didn’t lose…the irreplaceable.
Sometimes, we allow ourselves to grieve, focusing on all the things we do not have. While this is normal, crisis will change your perspective When you feel yourself being drawn in to that mindset, I challenge you. Take a few moments to think about what you do have and allow gratitude to fill your heart and mind. We are so blessed. Whether it is our health (compared to those who cannot see, hear or walk); your family; your friends or, yes even your job…focus on those things that, if lost, can not be replaced.
Be prepared for unexpected crisis!
Did you wonder how any of this related to Social Work? Here it is.
When you are working with families and children who have been victims, there is always the potential for unexpected crisis. On April 11th, we were warned of a severe tornado outbreak beginning in the afternoon. And there were close to 300 tornados that followed that prediction. No one predicted, however, that an early morning tornado would form ahead of the system and hit Moody, AL.
But it did.
How do you prepare for unexpected crisis like that? By being aware that not everything can be predicted. By having a crisis plan prepared at all times. Mental preparation and ongoing support is always crucial.
Daily, across the globe, some social workers are called to respond to emergencies involving their formerly stable families. These emergencies often mean very late nights of work doled upon an already tired worker. These emergencies can also mean that workers are exposed to emotionally charged or even emotionally devastating events and sights. It is not uncommon for a worker to resign after a particularly traumatic event.
How can we do better to help them through these times?
Teach them to expect crisis and to follow cues.
Knowing that a family addressing potentially life-long abuse issues, will likely have set backs or experience crisis is key. Armed with that knowledge, social workers need to be on alert to verbal, behavioral or even overt clues. Following those cues could mean the difference in prevention versus reaction to a crisis
But if crisis does occur, as a supervisor, manager and agency we need to form a supportive circle around the worker. Listening, encouraging, normalizing what they are going through helps them to process that crisis and to keep going. I continue to advocate for ongoing vicarious trauma support groups for all social workers as a way to offer continuous support and understanding from those who really do understand, and have been in the same shoes.
The tornado will forever occupy a place in my life history, not only because it was a traumatic experience, but also for the life lessons I learned.
I am grateful every single day for what I have.
And I know and accept that things will occur in my life for which I have no control. How I handle those things is up to me. I can let them define me…or I can use them to define myself and my path. I chose the latter.