The rain was falling in big, heavy drops, driving onto the ground and making the mud splash up. Dark clouds loomed overhead.
I rushed the 4 kids into the house with our McDonald’s takeout in hand, laughing as we went. I set the kids up at the table with their fries and burgers, squeezing ketchup out of their packets while the sky grew darker. The kids, laughing and talking over one another, stuffed their mouths, enjoying the rare treat of McD’s after a school day.
My cell phone rang, and I answered it. My husband was on the other end. He was working at a remote location that day, 2 hours away. He said something about watching the weather radar. I couldn’t hear him over the kids and with the oddly bad reception I was getting, so I moved toward the sliding glass doors in our living room. I opened the door, hoping to get better reception. When I could hear him again, my husband said that it looked like there could be a tornado close by, according to the radar. I teased him about being overly cautious, and laughed off his concern.
And then I looked up at the sky.
The clouds had taken on a shade of green, a shade I had never really seen before. And they were suddenly swirling, rotating around in a the most intimidating way.
“The clouds …” I said, still on the phone, “they’re rotating!”. I immediately realized that the radar might be right, my husband might not be overly cautious after all, and that I needed to get the kids to the basement!
Without hanging up, I rushed back to the kids and told them that we were heading downstairs … Now! … and to leave their food behind. My husband, on the other end, heard some semblance of “Kids, get downstairs!” followed by banging and crashing as we rushed down the stairs, followed by my phone going dead.
In the meantime, the kids and I huddled in the basement. The sound of rushing water sent me investigating. There, behind our basement electrical panel, was a steady pouring of rain water past all of my husband’s computer equipment onto the basement floor. I told the two oldest to call 911 if something happened, and flipped the switch to turn off the electricity. Nothing terrible happened, so with the lights now out, I headed back upstairs to get our basket of flashlights and their food.
The wind howled outside and things blew around on the other side of the window. With the glass door cracked open, I looked outside and heard the most eerie sound. It was a low roar — I can see how people compare the sound to a freight train. It didn’t stop, it just kept roaring.
Heading back downstairs with the food and flashlights, the kids had no idea how bad it was outside. They laughed and joked while finishing their burgers. I told the boys what to do if the basement window blew in — pull the futon mattress and couch cushions over us — in case I couldn’t do it myself.
It felt like we were down there forever, but eventually the sound, that low roar, stopped, and we ventured back upstairs. The sky was still green, but the roar was gone and the rain and wind had died down.
And then the phone calls and the texts started. And people started showing up at our door. And the emails and facebook messages came in. Everyone was checking to see if we were okay, if our house survived, and if we had any damage.
When my husband got back into town a couple of hours later, they wouldn’t let him into the neighbourhood, even though he was driving an Environment Canada vehicle. The damage was that severe.
I didn’t realize until watching the video the next day how bad the tornado really was.
Houses were destroyed. Vehicles upended. Trees torn down. Branches, backyard furniture and bicycles were everywhere. Roofs and walls were ripped off of houses. Fences were tossed around.
And everyone was still alive.
If the tornado had happened a couple of hours earlier, babies and toddlers would have been sleeping in their bedrooms at naptime and kids would have been on school buses. If it had happened a few hours later, children would have been having baths and getting ready for bed. They would have been taken quickly by the same winds that ripped the roofs off.
Instead, the tornado happened at dinner time when families were on their main floor cooking dinner or eating by windows where they could see the storm coming. As a result, there were minor injuries reported, but nothing serious.
That’s when I realized how protected we were in those moments.
In the minutes, hours and days following, neighbours helped one another, communities far and near sent money and clothes and household items to provide for those families that were left with very little. And we took care of one another. None of the families displaced by the damage was without a place to sleep that night.
The tornado taught me that nothing is certain, nothing is guaranteed. A normal spring day can turn into one of the worst. Possessions can be lost in an instant. Life can be lost in an instant.
That storm has left me nervous in rainy weather, pacing and listening for the roar, just in case. But it taught me to be grateful for our blessings, thankful for all that God has entrusted to us. Thankful for His protection, His provision, and His grace in the storm.
A few days later, I asked my daughter if she was worried while we were in the basement during the storm. She’s the type that normally panics first and thinks later. But do you know what she said? She said “No, I wasn’t worried. I asked God to take care of us. And He did!”.
That He did.
He took care of everyone that day.