Time to run for it, Aunty Em!
Yes, faithful readers, we had a bit of a scare around noon Thursday when our cell phones warned of a tornado in the midst of a severe thunderstorm.
Here in the bunker, also known as the Star Beacon newsroom, there are no windows so I ran to the door to look outside. Park Avenue had turned into a fast-moving river as rain poured from the sky.
Somewhat alarmed, I asked co-workers on the other side of the building if they got a tornado warning.
They said, “Yes,” and continued working.
I ran back to the newsroom and suggested we go to the bathroom to wait it out. After all, if a tornado was going to take the roof off the building, I needed to be in the bathroom one way or another!
I worried about Darwin, my one-eyed Jack Russell terrier, and Britney, my crazy border collie, home alone during the storm. But first I had to save myself as images from “The Wizard of Oz” flashed in my head.
I am not too proud to admit that I got a bit anxious.
In November 1994, I had a close encounter with a tornado while on the job in Florida.
A drenching Tropical Storm Gordon swept over Indian River and Brevard counties, spawning tornado warnings. So who does the editor send out to see what’s happening? That’s right — me.
It was after dark and I could barely see U.S. 1 for the rain, thunder and lightning.
In the distance, I could see sparks flying as lightning knocked out transformers in Barefoot Bay, a retirement community of about 7,000 people.
When I was about a half-mile from Barefoot Bay, lightning lit up the sky and I could see a tornado moving inland from the Indian River.
Oh no! It almost seemed unreal.
I turned on my vehicle’s hazard flashers and pulled over to the side of the road and watched as the tornado destroyed mobile home after mobile home. Pieces of aluminum siding flew up in the air and trees were left looking like toothpicks.
Shaking, I called the night editor from my mobile phone.
“Did it sound like a train?” he asked.
“It sounded like death!” I said.
He told me to get out of there and go to the local hospital and talk to victims. Once inside the emergency room, I talked to people in shock, injured people and people who thought they were having a heart attack.
I heard one person was killed as he slept in his trailer.
When hospital officials realized I was there, they politely threw me out.
I drove back to the office, wrote my story and went home.
The next morning, I went back to Barefoot Bay to assess the damage. Several trailers were completely gone except for a cement pad, while a next-door neighbor’s trailer remained untouched. The randomness made it almost supernatural.
The tornado blew out windows, ripped porches and sun rooms from the mobile homes and left the community looking like a war zone.
A total of 500 homes were destroyed or damaged.
I remember one sheriff’s deputy telling me, “It’s pure hell.”
Now you understand why I was scared Thursday and stayed in the bathroom.
One co-worker joined me.
“If a tornado hits the Star Beacon, they’ll find me on the toilet,” I joked.
But it was true!
Stay safe, faithful readers.
Staff writer Shelley Terry likes this quote from comedian Jeff Foxworthy — “You might be a redneck if you have been on TV more than five times describing the sound of a tornado.”