This story is written by Allen Crabtree, a Red Cross worker currently in Missouri.
William Whittenbach shares a cup of coffee with his wife Lorna of 38 years in the dining area of the American Red Cross shelter set up at the Missouri Southern State University. Only two days ago they had been sitting comfortably in their home in Joplin having dinner when the tornado warning sirens began to blow alerting the neighborhood of an impending storm approaching.
“My husband got on the floor and I got down behind a piece of furniture, next to the wall, and away from the windows,” Lorna said. “When the tornado hit our home we were both beat up pretty badly. Everything collapsed on top of us, and we had to be pulled from the wreckage of our home.” But they survived, although their home of 15 years was destroyed.
They found their way with the help of friends to the Red Cross shelter where they are contemplating their future. The Whittenbach’s hope to rebuild, but for now they are most concerned about the lacerations to the scalp, face, and swollen black eye that Lorna suffered, and the lacerations William received. Their wounds are not major, and will heal, but they are a fresh reminder of the power of a tornado.
“I recommend that anyone who hears a tornado warning, or the tornado sirens, take them seriously,” William said. “Move immediately to the safest place in your home and ride out the storm as best you can. An inside room away from windows is best if you don’t have a cellar to get into.” He added that he had heard some who had ignored the warnings had done so at their peril.
According to figures issued 2 days after the tornado, 118 people had died from the storm and officials are apprehensive that there may be more as search and rescue efforts continue. The Sunday afternoon tornado that hit Joplin was the deadliest U.S. tornado since April 9, 1947 and destroyed homes, businesses, schools and hospitals along a 7-mile long corridor that was ¾ miles wide. By comparison, the terrible tornado that struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 27, 2011, less than a month earlier, killed 61 people along its path.
“I would rather be back in my own home,” remarked Lorna. “But everyone here at the Red Cross shelter has treated me so nice, and I am very comfortable here.”