Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Here was the situation as it laid itself out, the first in a series of surreal moments I would face that day. As I was returning from a short business trip to Danville Ky on Interstate 64, I was suddenly confronted by a TORNADO that appeared to be coming directly at me. I was listening to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" on a tape I had in the car but I switched to the radio, looking for news, as I went through a group of survival techniques in my head and decided to pull in under an overpass and figure out what I should do next.
I paid careful attention to that funnel cloud and soon realized it wasn't that close to me but since it was my first experience with a tornado I had to admit, what did I actually know about these things? I heard on the radio that dozens of sightings, most of which turned out to be duplicate sightings, had been reported across the Midwest that afternoon, but since barely controlled hysteria was the order of that particular day, I was ready to forgive just about anything.

My office was in the suburbs of Louisville and it was necessary for me to drop off the company car and pick up my own. I worked in a 6 story office building that was still under construction, 4 floors of which were complete and rented out. The other 2 stories were still incomplete and no work had been done in a couple of weeks. We liked to eat lunch on the unfinished 6th floor as the elevator opened on to a single large room that was completely enclosed in glass and it provided a good view of the Ohio River and the Louisville skyline.

The people in my office were clustered around a radio, murmuring at one another and they greeted me like a long lost brother, home from the war. We listened together for a while, getting no further new information and decided to go up to the 6th floor to see it we could see anything. It was very dark and there was a greenish tint to the sky and I thought of the book "Darkness at Noon." It wasn't quite 4 o'clock but it looked like early evening. There was no wind, which was strange in itself because, as quickly as I can explain this, a new tornado suddenly appeared in the general direction of where I lived, the bottom of which was one large dust cloud, and, as we watched, it quickly sat down on the Water Treatment Plant, scattering debris in all directions and, just as quickly, seemed to lift itself off the ground and dissipate. I had never seen anything like that before.

We broke up and started for home, never mind that I was headed to where I had just seen a tornado. I lived in an old neighborhood off Bardstown Road in an old house that had been beautifully carved into 4 apartments. I had the second floor front. I dreaded what I thought I was going to find when I got home.

The traffic, of course, was horrific. What was normally a 15 minute trip seemed to take forever. I was about 6 blocks from home when I first saw evidence of the tornado's destruction. The stores and houses that I passed on my way to and from work every day were now demolished. A hardware store and a couple of small markets, a few coffee shops and an art gallery, a convenience store and some gas stations and the historic Fern Creek Baptist church, all of which had lined both sides of Bardstown Road were now heaped in the middle of the road, with the odor of gasoline and smashed bananas in the air. The police had set up a temporary roadblock and no cars were allowed to pass. I had to park on the edge of that mess and start walking towards my house.

You could see the course the tornado had taken as the road became clear and there was considerable damage to my right in the direction of Cherokee Park. A tornado has strange patterns of destruction. At the center of the park was an ancient tree on which Daniel Boone had carved his initials. I found out later, the tornado, bearing down on that tree, had suddenly reared up and jumped right over top of it, preserving the old landmark in yet another surreal moment that day. It looked like it had gone down the street parallel to my street, which was Tyler Parkway, and debris was blown into the yards but there was only superficial damage to the houses. As I approached my house, I could see a tree limb sticking out of my dining room window that came from God knows where but that was all the damage I could see. I climbed the stairs and entered my apartment.

There was no electricity, no water, no phone, no nothing. I lit a couple of candles that I scrounged up and tried to assess the damage. The tree limb I had seen from outside was in the closet off the dining room that held my winter stuff - all ruined - and my custom-made bowling ball was shattered. I pushed the tree limb back through the window and thumb tacked an over sized towel on the broken window frame to keep the rain out. I swept up the broken glass as best I could. By this time it was raining hard, a major-league electrical storm, and I had just made it home without getting very wet.

I sat down in a chair and hooked my leg over its arm. I rubbed my eyes. I was sitting across the room from the window that had a ridiculous bright green beach towel in it, festooned with thumb tacks, and trying not to think about anything, anything at all, but all I could do was wonder what more could possibly happen that day.

1 comment:

edith b said...

The NY Times Crossword puzzle referenced the Good Friday Tornadoes that ravaged the Midwest that day and several people mentioned that fact in their comments on the puzzle at Rex Parker's blog

It is ironic that you chose this time to write about them. I mentioned you on the blog today.