I want to write about the tornado that has devastated hundreds in Suffolk, Virginia. I have lived in Virginia for the past five years. Currently, I reside in Norfolk, just hours away from the area hit by the storm. It is amazing that something like this has happened in this area. I moved here thinking that hurricanes were the worst types of natural disasters that I would have to face.
Watching the news reports, the residents have said that they never expected this to happen to them. And they have never seen anything like it. Most of them never thought that a tornado would actually touch down here in Virginia.
Despite the warnings, I didn’t expect this either. Yesterday, I picked my daughter up from school at 3. I left home with a soap opera still playing on the television. When I returned, there was a weather man/woman on every local channel talking about a tornado warning. Like a lot of people in the area, I didn’t believe the warning meant much more than a few rain showers or high winds. All day, it had been a bit cloudy and the sky looked like rain, but, otherwise, it was warm and calm. Around 4, I saw my neighbors come out of their house and look up at the sky. When I went to look for myself, I noticed that the sky had begun to darken.
I continued listening to the weather forecasters, urging people to prepare for the storm: to get to the lowest level of their houses, to get pillows and blankets, and to stay away from the windows. I wondered if anyone was getting prepared for a tornado? I sure wasn’t and I knew better. I spent the first 23 years of my life in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is one of the states that is part of ‘tornado alley’. If you have seen “Twister” with Bill Pullman and Helen Hunt, you might remember that they were part of a team of storm chasers. Rightfully, the movie was located in Oklahoma. For as long as I can remember, there have been reports of sightings of tornadoes. Just because they don’t hit the ground, doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. I’ve seen that for myself during the most notable tornado disaster in Oklahoma history: May 3, 1999.
On May 3, 1999, over 70 tornadoes broke out in both Oklahoma and Kansas. The most significant tornado, an F5, (the highest on the scale), caused major damage in Chickasha, Oklahoma. I had been living in Chickasha and attending the college there. It was my freshman year and only four months earlier, I had met my future husband. That summer, I had went back to my hometown to work, but he stayed on campus.
That very day, I was at my summer job when the siren started to blow. In Oklahoma, most places have sirens to warn you that it is serious and important to take shelter. And everything happened quickly. I did panic. The forecasters said that there was disaster happening in Chickasha. There were also tornadoes spotted in other counties in Oklahoma. I called my mom. I called my boyfriend. He said that all the students had evacuated to the school basement. Although, he couldn’t see anything, he could hear the raging winds and other loud noises that the storm had produced. He is from Virginia/Maryland, so he didn’t know the the caliber of a tornado. While I was freaking out, he was relatively calm. Luckily, the college in Chickasha is very small. Most people go home during the summer semester. Otherwise, it would’ve been impossible to have sheltered everyone so quickly.
Meanwhile, things were getting spooky at my job. There were sightings of tornadoes in my area as well. We immediately took precaution and hid in the cooler of the restaurant. After a few minutes, it actually sounded calm outside. We all walked outside to find that it was almost too calm. Right up above our heads, the sky was nearly pitch back. The wind practically nonexistent. It seemed as if the Earth was standing still. Then I saw it.
Right before my very eyes, I saw a tornado. It was fairly small in comparison to what I’ve seen on the video captured by eyewitnesses. It was scary, yet it was almost like a breathtaking creature. When I first saw it, it’s tail was long and extended as if it were pointing down at us. Then, the tail started to curl and lift up into the rest of the darkness of the tornado. Only moments before, we had all been in the cooler, so I don’t know if it had touched down or not. What I can say is that it was one of the freakiest moments of my entire life. I had never seen anything like that!
I had never seen anything quite like the destruction that a tornado causes either. The May 3, 1999, tornadoes caused a lot of damage in Chickasha and surrounding areas. When I went back to see the damage, I was shocked. Debris was scattered all over the place. Houses were destroyed. Cars were laying on their sides as if they were toys tossed aside by children. Families were displaced. Many people lost their lives.
Thankfully, there have been no lives lost in the Virginia tornadoes. There were about 200 injured, but most of them weren’t serious There are, however, many Suffolk communities that have been completely devastated by yesterday’s storm. Families are frustrated because they have been kept from re-entering their homes. Many want to see if they can salvage family mementos, or just to access the damage done to their homes. In this time of economic slump, this has to be one of the worst things to have happened.
Virginia Governor Timothy Kain landed in Suffolk, Virginia around 5 p.m. He toured the damage and declared a state of emergency. He also plans to ask for federal help.
At this time, the Suffolk American Red Cross is asking for monetary donation. Their number is 757-539-6645.