The Tornado Never Rings Twice


After the Dance, My Feet Hurt

OK - we just survived a tornado Now we get to the really unbelievable parts. But every bit of this is true. I have witnesses.

The power is out. Amazingly, the phone works. Sharon dials 911 while I hold the children and try to soothe them. A moment later, we look out the front door. Our neighbor's house across the street is missing its roof and half the top story walls. Their car is upside down in the drive, and Oh, No! I can see right into the wall-less bedrooms, and the babys' cribs are full of wall and roof and stuff!

I start out the door, think twice, go throw on some shorts, finally getting rid of the towel. I don't think about shoes, and step on two roofing nails pounding across the way. A neighbor from down the hill joins me. I explain, and we beat on doors, scream in windows, look everywhere - no answer!

Like some crazed, macho cop in a movie I kick the front door in with my bare foot (houses these days!) We tear up the stairs, rip everything out of the cribs and find...


We search the rest of the house. Nobody. I look in the back yard. Nobody. I run back to my house to tell my wife. "Honey," she explains patiently, "that's not their car. And I saw them all leave this morning."

Our neighbor & I start going house to house. At one just up the street, we help a family out a window - they were trapped in the remaining undestroyed room, with only one window - 8 feet off the ground.

We meet my next door neighbor, who watched it all from his garage, including the car going up the hill just as the tornado hit, which casually, lazily, crawled into the air, rolled over, flew a few feet, and dropped into the Taylor's driveway. Despite the roof being crushed to within 5 inches of the door tops, the driver somehow got out, and the guy next door to me helped him out. (He disappeared for a couple of days - he was in shock, but didn't have even a mild concussion.)

We turned off power and gas in houses with missing gas meters and obvious wiring problems or water inside. We reported the gas lines we couldn't shut off to the arriving firemen. We got to one house, a pile of rubble on a slab with several people standing on the porch. They assured us noone was there.

An awful lot of people were getting drunk as fast as they could. A few were helping, more were wandering around in a daze. A very few were crying. More firemen, police and rescue workers showed up, so we went home to take care of our families.

Sibling Winds

We would later find out that six maximum force tornados (winds measured well over 250MPH) all touched down in close proximity in the county essentially simultaneously. A friend on the south side of Atlanta (we were north) called because he had seen on eyewitness news there had been a tornado near us, and wondered if we had seen it. Andre', my best friend, called. "Pray for Darlene & the boys - they were hit in the car by a tornado! They're all shaken up; I'm going to try to get to them now." We had to laugh. We'd been through so much with them - here we went again! (They turned out to be fine, other than being shaken up.)

One tornado had come through the neighborhood, straight across the street, tearing up homes left and right. Another had gone right through the woods behind us; they had crossed by our back property line (after, we found, following roughly parallel courses for over a mile). There was a 50 yard swath cut through the woods at about 5 feet off the ground. All the tree tops were laid out nicely in the same direction - like Paul Bunyan and Babe had just gone through or something.


We discovered the firemen had heard a cry from the house where the people on the porch said nobody was. A woman and her mother, it seems, had been at home. The mother had been in bed. The daughter cried, "Mother! We have to get somewhere safe!" about the time the time the roof flew away.

The two walls on either side of the mother's bed collapsed, tentlike, across the bed, protecting her. The daugher, standing at the end of the hallway, was lifted a foot or so up in the air, rotated to a horizontal position, and gently dropped onto the carpet. The end whipped up from the floor in the wind, and rolled her up in the carpet. A ton or so of building material dropped on top of the slab and two walls - basically the rest of the house - in pieces. Neither woman was hurt.

The people on the porch? Strangers who chanced to stop there, too shaken up to think straight.

Two miles away, someone watched a Baptist church building rise straight up in the air about 50 feet, then slam back to the ground. Toothpick city.

The church secretary had left the building less than 5 minutes before. [3]

Behind the woods behind our house were some apartments. I cut through the woods to check over there (I couldn't see any emergency personnel, and wondered if they had not been able to get through - thr roads were impassable for a half mile because of trees, power lines, and debris.)

I met a man in front of a building missing its second story. He looked kind of wild, wrapped in a fairly clean, white bedsheet. He'd been showering when the tornado hit, removing the entire second story of the buidling. Only he and the tub were left! Everywhere a pipe should be coming out of the floor, there was a little fountain. He said he just stood staring around in shock, not even thinking about the other neighbors beginning to come out. The bed sheet (not his) had come by on a gust of wind and he grabbed it. The neighbors had all been in shock, and nobody had even noticed him.

A mile or so away, a quarter mile from the nearest tornado path, a woman was using the toilet. She'd just finished, when Wham! a 10 foot long, 4 inch diameter pine branch came through her wood siding and dry wall, burying its forend in the wall opposite - the quivering shaft about 2 inches from her face!

It was 10 to 15 minutes before she regained enough control to even attempt to get off the pot.

I couldn't find my motorcycle tag renewal sticker (it later turned up buried under stuff that got thrown around), so I went to the nearest county office to get another. While waiting in line, I was discussing the tornado with a neighbor, when a trustee (trusted prisonetr from the county jail) cleaning the floor stopped to talk. He'd been on a roadside cleaning detail the day of the tornado. The tornado came right over them. The guard leaped into the roadside ditch, yelling for the prisoners to do the same. In the process, he dropped his shotgun. After the tornado (the same one that hit us) passed them over, they were all kind of wandering around in shock. A prisoner saw the shotgun, absent-mindedly picked it up and handed it to the guard.

I guess I looked somewhat skeptical. ``It's true, ask him!'' the trustee insisted. He was pointing at the patrolman at the desk, who looked disgusted and nodded. ``Yeah, it's true. I was the guard. Dropping that shotgun is why I'm on desk duty for a while.'' The trustee didn't even smirk, just looked vindicated and went back to pushing his broom.

The Red Cross and local businesses were wonderful. The Red Cross set up an emergency aid station nearby, and for several days anyone affected (including emergency workers) had the option of eating free there - the food came from local businesses - McDonalds, Chick Fil-A and others. Krispy Kreme and Dunkin DoNuts donated many, many doughnuts.

Net Loss

Much of our roof was gone. Water damage collapsed some of the ceilings. Over 1/3 of the cedar siding was damaged beyond repair. The carpet was ruined, as were the interior walls, paintwise. The countertop warped. Everything in the basement got wet; much of it mildewed. We lost a couple of pines (hooray!) and a 75 foot poplar (boo!) All my ties were ruined (yay!) Lots of stuff inside was messed up or just blew away - including our kids Venus fly trap plants - though all the other potted plants beside them were fine (if a bit muddy). The porch roof and railing disappeared. We never fond our roof, but we found most of the Taylors' roof - in pieces in our back yard.

The rear deck collapsed. The porch swing lay broken in the back yard, depsite the absence of the porch roof to which it had been attached. Toys on the front porch, just a foot from the swing, were untouched except for being covered with mud. They had not moved one inch.

We gained two trash cans and lost one. We found pictures of people we had never seen (and haven't yet). Several years later, some of the remaining trees still have bits of insulation, clothing (cinlduing a slink, black nightgown), and building materials in the upper branches.

A month and many vicious monsoons later, the chimney repair guy found in our back yard a photograph the Taylors had been upset to lose. While it had a couple of rips, and lots of pinholes in it, it was somehow unhurt by the weather. Sharon cleaned it up and reframed it, and gave it to the Taylors as a house-warming gift when their house was fixed.

State Farm Insurance was wonderful. They gave us a $1,000.00 check on the spot to handle the weekend, and told us to find somewhere to live. Friends in another house with more damage than ours were told by their insurance agent (I wish I could recall the company) to board the windows, put plastic over the roof, and live in the house. No heat. No power. No water. Wet beds and carpet.

A few toys & some clothes were ruined, but most things just needed washing (about 30 or 40 loads worth - mostly just hauled to the cleaners).

We didn't lose much we cared about, and even most of that was replaced.

We got a house that was better than when we built it. Mike Willard of Marietta, GA, did the work. He got carpet three times better than what we originally had, for the same price. He worked wonders, and I cannot recommend him enough. $20,000 worth of damage in 10 - 15 seconds. Three months to repair everything.

(The local building industry was in a slump. Suddenly, they had more business than they could deal with.)

Total losses were eventually tallied at $30,000,000. The remarkable thing in our area was that despite well over a hundred homes being devastated, with over a hundred families caught in the tornados in our neighborhood and the apartments on either side, not a single injury was sustained as a direct result of the tornado.

I stepped on nails - my own fault, and got a tetanus shot. My four year old son picked up a razor blade a workman left and cut his thumb.

Two other post-tornado injuries occured in the area. A man got really drunk and climbed on top of his house to look around. He fell off and broke an arm.

Another man got a broken collarbone when friends, helping clear his roof, tossed a large piece of tree trunk where he was standing - the friends were drunk.

(Moral: Don't drink & tornado.)

Not a single pet was injured. Our dog was in her house. A pine tree fell across it, but a fence bore most ofthe weight. Her water bowl was still just inches from the doghouse door.

Our car was sandblasted. It was sealed up tight, but there was a single blob of mud smack in the middle of the steering wheel. My motorcycle in the garage was fine - and had a single blob of mud smack in the middle of the handlebars!

You can read my metaphysical musings about peoples' reactions to this disaster.
[3] Maybe God didn't like the architecture - how should I know?
Last updated: 21 May 2001

Copyright 1995 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.

Miles O'Neal <> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514