It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. There was a tornado watch in effect the entire afternoon until 8:00 that night. But we didn’t even consider not going to church where we joined Amanda and her five. Members of the Daraja Children’s Choir from Uganda had been in our home that week and we were excited to hear them sing, recite scripture, and dance. As we left church about 7:20 it was raining, but not hard.
Having had pacemaker surgery earlier in the week, I was very tired and headed to the bedroom to put on my pajamas. When I returned to the den, Charles had turned on the television. What had been a tornado watch was now a warning. Both our cell phones began buzzing alarms to seek shelter. Then we heard the Cairo siren screaming. We bumbled down into our basement where we keep two chairs and a few jugs of water. I began to worry about Amanda who had left church minutes ago taking two girls home near Whigham. And what about Candi and the little ones alone at their house? We both began calling and leaving messages. Until we realized phones weren’t going to help. We began praying instead.
Suddenly a mighty roar passed over our house. Light from a bare bulb flickered but didn’t go out. “What was that?” we asked each other. We sat there in the damp basement another short time before we realized the siren was no longer screaming and all was quiet.
Back upstairs, we peered outside. There was one top of a pine tree twisted off and lying beside the beheaded tree. Otherwise, all seemed normal. We had a call from Amanda that she was safely home, though having fought the wind to stay on the road.
But all was far from normal in our little town of Cairo.
In the same five minutes that left us with one treetop on the grass, the tornado ripped through homes and property, turning over vehicles, lifting roofs–as if a buzz saw had gone flying.
Folks were clinging to whatever they could. The mighty roar covered to some degree the sound of glass shattering, furniture flying like missiles, sheds being turned upside down, and metal roofs flying at horrific speed.
We learned about our own little town on the 11:00 news. There was longtime friend Becky Teasley being interviewed in front of her crashed home. Business facades were slashed into, calm sedate old homes turned in five minutes into what appeared to be mountains of junk. But as bad as it all looked on television, it was far worse when I saw the devastation with my own eyes.
Charles came home giving me grizzly reports of the destruction. But it was two days later when he took me to see the wake of that five minute tornado. I was utterly astounded.
How could all this happen in so short a time?
Crews had been working day and night to restore power, clear roads, and offer assistance to traumatized citizens. Still, we saw a huge oak crashed into a roof splitting that house in two; we saw huge portions of metal roof spun crazily here and there; we saw one entire street of small houses hacked beyond restoration. Everywhere the chainsaw crews worked, utility trucks growled, cranes were set up to lift huge fallen trees off houses.
Although today, almost a week later, most of the emergency work may be over, the real damage will never be completely repaired. But it will be overcome by the hardy resilient citizens who are not going to be put down. In front of one house so beautiful a week ago, A large handmade sign reads: “Historic home for sale–Minor roof repairs.”
Five minutes (my own estimation) can make a lifetime of difference. For some things we can prepare, for others there is no preparation. It is imperative that we make the preparations we can make, namely, talk to the God of power and love and seek shelter with Him through the storms–and forever.
In Cairo no lives were lost. In Salem, Alabama where another tornado hit the same day, twenty-three folks of different ages were killed–ten, I’m told, from one family.