I had planned to get a load of gravel and one of sand to fill up some holes on the farm Saturday morning but the farm truck wouldn't start and I ended up spending the early afternoon trying to fix that. Then I got in my truck and took off hoping to get to Rutledge, MO for a big flea market and a visit to the Amish grocery by 5 pm. As fate would dictate, that plan was not to be realized. As I crossed over the Mississippi at Keokuk, IA, I spotted a big storm cell hovering just north and west of me. I tuned to a local radio station to hear that this cell was going to produce some thunderstorms and possible tornadoes later in the evening, but as I was basically going to be heading southwest, I was not that woried. It looked ot be moving away pretty fast. But as I got further down the road, the cell shifted and came towards the town where I was headed. At Kahoka, MO, I came to a 4 way stop. I had my windows rolled down as it was warm and muggy.
Suddenly I head the ear piercing blast of air raid sirens all around me. It was the relay system of severe storm sirens all around that county sounding. That usually means a tornado has been sighted in the area. So I whipped my truck around and headed back towards IL. The last county in MO before you cross back through IA to IL is Clark County. The first one in IA is Lee County and the first one acroos the river into IL is Hancock County. So I'm travelling at about 65-70 mph through Clark County when I hear on the radio that awful Emergency Broadcast sound we all hate to hear when they test it. A computer voice from the National Weather Service come on to say, "A Large tornado has been sighed on the ground in Western Clark County, MO. It is moving Eastward at a rate of 40 mph. It is expected to travel East and North along the Mississippi River. Towns in the path of this tornado are Canton, MO, Keokuk, IA and Macomb, IL. If you live in any of these towns or surrounding communities, you should immediately seek shelter in a basement, interior room of the house or a low lying area if you are outside."
That's a scary thing to hear when you are out driving in that area and the nearest person you know lives 40 miles eastward. So driving as fast as I could, I got back across the river and headed Southwest throught the town of Basco, IL in order to get myself out of the way. Turns out, that tornado was the one that flattened both Canton, MO and Lima, IL which were both evacuated and where martial law was later declared.
I got back to my farm in Schuyler County around 6 pm. Not much time had passed before the skies darkened perceptively and the winds came up hard from the west, where we get most of our weather from. Suddenly I started seeing flashing yellow lights headed my way from town. It was the local pack of storm chasers so instantly I knew a tornado was in the area. A quick call in to Gwen, confirmed it. There was at least three tornadoes on the ground coming from the Mt. Sterling area (12 miles from me) and headed towards Rushville ( miles on the otehr side of me) so I was basically right in their path. Gwen said Rob had gone out to his grandma's house by Camden to see if she was in her house. He had come speeding back to say no-one was around but he had sighted two tornadoes moving right toward him when he got out. The storm chasers turned down Scott's Mill Road, just a little bit East of my house and hurried down the road. Not much time ahd passed before a sheriff and his deputy stopped on the highway right in front of my house. Soon they were joined by the storm chasers who were saying they had just been chased back by a HUGE funnel cloud. I was standing on my driveway listening to them as they were getting all their sensors out and aiming them at this storm cell hovering about 1/2 mile North of my house. Suddenly it seemed to shift and a HUGE funel cloud could be seen. Judging the distance from it to me, I'd say the base was 1/4 mile wide and moving very slowly. It would pick up and then set back down again gathering strength.
I walked to my truck and got my camera out to take photos of this brilliant lightning the tornado was generating. It was actually swirling down through the funnel. I'll find out later how well I did photgraphing that since the sky had gotten so dark. The funnel picked up again and set down in a grove of trees within sight of the house. From far off, you could hear a ripping sound and these huge oaks were plucked from the ground and went swirling up into the cloud to disapear at the top. One of the storm chasers said "Jeff, look at that big bastard. That's the biggest fucking tornado I've ever seen!" Not really what you want to hear from a storm chaser parked right in front of your house. Then suddenly, the funnel shifted it's track and headed right toward us. "One of the sheriffs said, "FUCK ME, it's headed right for us!"
So six vehicles all took off at once, headed for town. I watched for a few seconds until the tornado was just across the highway from me and grabbed Jake the Dog and headed for the basement with my camera, a bag of candles and a box of matches. I think the funnel must have sideswiped the hiuse because instead of the sound o a train, I heard what sounded like a semi tractor-trailer parked in my driveway. I looked out the little basement window but everything was pitch black outside. The house began to actually vibrate like the movement coused when a washing machine is on spin cycle. All the walls and floor were doing this for several minutes. Finally that stopped and everything got quiet so I headed back upstairs. I stepped out on the porch and could see that huge funnel cloud moving off towards town. I called Gwen back and told her it was awesome and headed her way. She said she knew because they were listening on the scanner. The sky was basically clearing off or so I thought. When I looked behind the house, another cell was just sitting there with little funnel clouds forming around the edges. So I went back to the basement. I could hear it come over the house and lightning was flashing all around. Finally it passed and I went upstairs. The local news station which had gone out minutes earlier was back on and reporting that 2 F2 tornadoes and an F3 had just passed through my area. The F3 was the one I saw across the highway headed toward me. Finally, rain started adn a bit of hail but I could see no more small storm cells in the distance. I called Gwen and told her I was headed into town. She told me Rob had taken Scotty and gone back out to see if his grandma's farm was damaged. Apparently when He got within a mile, the road was blocked by a grain bin on it's side and several large trees. So he parked and walked the rest of the way in, in the dark while scotty took the long way around to meet him with the truck. He had his cell phone and was calling back periodically though reception was bad. When I got to Gwen's, all the neighborhood wives were there alone with kids in tow.
After several trips to the basement and trying to deal with all the kids whining and bitching, they all looked ready to have a stiff drink. So I told them all to grab a beer and I headed down to talk to the kids in the basement. I had to alternately cheer up crying kids and threaten them within an inch of their lives if they didn't stop fighting but I got them calmed down. Rob called sometime during that to say there was extgensive damage at his grandma's place and that he would be bringing the pets he could find back into town. Somehow Gwen had learned that the grandma and her son had gone to Springfield and not been there during the storm which was very good as I found out later in person.
The phone rang again and it was a lady up the block asking someoen to come down because her husband was drunk and getting verbally abusive. So being the only male there, I volunteered to go over and settle things. I got there and walked in on a lovely little domestic disturbance. What they were fighting about was insignificant because they are always fighting so I pretty much dropped the hammer on both of them and treated them like 10 year olds. I said "Look, I love you guys both and I don't want to see you kill each other but we've got a bunch of shit to deal with at the other house so I'm going to lay down the law here. You (husband), sleep on the couch. You (wife) go in the bedroom and lay down. Both of you go The Fuck to sleep and don't talk to each other the rest of the night. Don't even look at each other." He said "Fine" and she said "OK" and they headed off to where I told them to go. Then hubby started to give me some lip about how she had started it and Wife came back to add her two cents. I told him to shut the hell up and her to go to her room and stood there to make sure she did it. Then Hubby started to give me more lip about me telling him what to do and I told him, "man, you are in very vulnerable position laying there on the couch like that, I wouldn't talk back to me at this point if I were you!" He laid back down and closed his eyes. I stood there for a few minutes just to make sure my rules were goingto be followed and headed back through the rain to Gwen's. At this point, I should mention that I'm 6"2" and weigh about 259 pounds so Hubby had a little reason to be scared and stay on the couch.
Not long after I'd gotten back, Rob pulled in with a dog and a bird in a cage. He came in to grab his work boots, gloves adn more flashlights. I told him I'd go back out with him since Scotty had to take Melissa and the baby home. Just before we left, Grandma and Son came driving up. I think Chad had gotten hold of them on their cell to tell them to go to Rob and Gwen's before heading to their farm. Good thing because Rob was able to fill them in and tell them to take an alternate road around. He and I got back out there a few minutes after them. Even in pitch balcness, I could tell everything was lost...the whole farm. Power lines were snapped and lay across the main road. Her two story house was now a one story house. The barn was a twisted mess, the two story machine shed was cut in half. The garage was gone as was a wood shed and chicken coops and the various other outbuildings of an old farm. Trees were split in half and strewn all about. Her son's house which was down the road a few hundred feet was all that was left. Water lines had been ripped up and a water spout was shooting up in her front yard.
Grandma and son and family were all down at son's house trying to figure out exactly what she would need from the house which was now not safe to venture into. It seems that when the second story was taken off, the chimney fell backward with enough force to break 2x6 ceiling joists and go crashing into the living room and down through the floor, into the basement and then when the tornado left, it pulled a rain strom in whcih poured water into the basement, ruining several things she had down there.
We found the two other dogs cramped together in their dog house which now lay under a huge fallen oak tree that came from the woods a hundred yards in back of the house. The dog house was flattened to about 8 inches high but both dogs, a basset hound and a golden retriever were both unhurt, just scared.
We were shortly joined by Rob's cousin, Roy who lived 5 miles up the road but was able to get through on his 4-wheeler. Rob and Roy kicked in the back door and we were able to enter the house through the kitchen. We found a box of trash bags and started grabbing everything we could find that we knew she would want. Mostly photo albums, stacks of bills and papers and clothes. These we stored In a barn not far away owned by another neighbor. When we had several bags we go a safe and some file cabinets out and went over to the son's hosue to see what else we could do. Along the way we kept on stepping on something that was soft and round. When we shined our lights around, we realized the tornado must have picked up a couple of barns because we were stepping on about 30-40 dead barn cats which were scattered all around in various pieces. Not fun.
After talking to Grandma who was worried about all her pills and bills, we decided to call it a night and come back with reinforcements in the morning. That was around 1 am. When we got back to town, I told Rob I'd grab some film in the morning and my chainsaws and head over to his house so I could help out with the cleanup.
An interesting note was it was Prom Night at the local high school and when the tornadoes hit, they were all crowded int othe locker rooms in the basement wearing rented tuxedos and new dresses with their hair painstakingly done up and that's where they spent their prom. That will be one to remember.
I hada lot of people to call when I got home so I was up until 3 am. At 6:30 I was back over at Rob's and by 7 am we were back out to his Grandma's. Rob was able to talk to his boss, who owns a highway construction business and he lent us a backhoe so I parked my truck and drove Rob's out to the farm. When we got out there, the Red Cross was already there as well as the local ESDA workers and teh REA who were trying to string new power lines to at least temporarily restore power to the son's house who was now running everything on a generator. As I suspected, things looked much worse in the daylight. First off, the weather was being a bitch. It was never above 48 degrees all day and the winds were gusting up to 60 mph which made getting light things out of the house interesting. I took photos all around for the insurance company and then got into the slow job of trying to salvage everything we could of a woman who lived on the same farm for 86 years of her life.
It's quie a humbling experience. Most of us work our whole lives to gather certain things around us. Things to remind us of all the imprtant moments of our lives. This lady was no exception as the house had been filled to the brim with antiques and curios worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now they were mostly worhtless. By the end of the day, the things that could be saved were all stacked on the concrete pad where her garage had stood the day before and there was precious little left. From the local news we learend that 38 tornadoes had touched down in a 100 mile radius of me that night. Only two injuries and no deaths but millions of dollars in damage.
I'd describe the whole scene but I think I'll let some photos I took say those words for me. When I fianlly got home that night, sad and sore, I called first Deb to tell her I'd not be home that night and fill her in on all that went on. Then I called my friend twilitemystique so I could listen to how her weekend went and maybe forget a little about mine. She managed to cheer me up. Or we managed to cheer each other up...or something like that.
So that was my long and stressful weekend. here are some pics of the damage.