Five years ago, Dan and I experienced a tornado first hand.
We were on our way to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in 2012, located in Louisville, Kentucky. We had heard that there were going to be severe storms, but did not think it would effect our travel. We also owned a Dodge Intrepid, but decided to take our Ford Explorer because it was easier to drive in the rain. Little did we know that decision probably saved our lives.
We arrived upon Scottsburg, IN and the sky was green. My dad taught me that anytime the sky is that color and the clouds are abnormal, severe storms are about to arise. We turned on the radio, only to hear the emergency alarms going off and the weather service stating “there is a confirmed tornado in Scottsburg. If you are in this area, seek cover immediately.” We were unsure where we were, but Dan peered out his window and saw a water tower that said “Scottsburg.” We both looked at each other and knew this was serious. There were no exits and the one bridge we arrived upon was packed, so Dan said he was just going to floor it. Looking back, I am glad we did not go under that bridge because we learned a tornado can create a suction and rip everything out of that suction area in the snap of a finger.
After driving maybe 10 more miles, we heard the radio say that another tornado was spotted in Henryville. Again, not knowing our Indiana geography, I looked at our map and saw Henryville was the next town. We drove up to this:
Destruction was everywhere!
We didn’t realize we just missed an EF-4 tornado. We could see the destruction , as cars were every which way on the road. As we were stuck in traffic due to the tornado having JUST passed through, we saw cars trying to get through, getting stuck in the median, as we were blocked in from all angles.
As we sat and waited, we noted that the skies were again, ugly. It was unsettling. I looked to my right, past the flipped over semi and saw this:
A large “cloud” started to form and slowly began to rotate. I told Dan “this does not look good”. Not seconds later, a large piece of hail impaled the hood of our Explorer. We laughed and joked “that’s going to leave a mark (and sure enough it did).” Then another. Then another.
At around 3:40, hail unloaded from the angry skies. Dan said it was like giving 50 middle schoolers a bat and telling them to beat the tar out of our car. I could not even hear what Dan was saying. We felt a breeze in the vehicle, but I was clueless as to where it was coming from. Dan knew – he saw our back window was completely blown out. My passenger window was shattered in half as hail came whirling in at tornado speed, into our vehicle. One came in so fast it nailed my leg and caused an immediate egg. Thanks to Dan’s quick thinking, he grabbed his pillow and shoved it in my window, as I sat screaming in tears, thinking this was the end. I bent down, Dan covered me with my coat, as glass was flying everywhere.
Dan quickly shut our sunroof cover and again, not 2 seconds later, a piece of hail shattered it as glass rained down on us through the rips in the fabric. When was it going to end? As I was ducked down and trying to force my way into the back seat to get away from the hail and glass, Dan firmly told me to stay seated, as he felt our vehicle swaying back and forth. He knew the best thing to do was sit with our seatbelts on in case we got taken up and sucked out of the vehicle.
The car in front of us, his back window was completely gone and in front of him, a guy with cloth top convertible, sat and endured the same damage.
Cars were everywhere
And just like that, it passed. We learned it actually was only an EF-1 tornado, but also produced the largest hail ever in Indiana history at 4 1/2 inches in diameter. It looked like it had just snowed there was so much hail
A fake smile yes, but more a look of sheer relief as we were soaking wet, glass was everywhere, and our vehicle a complete mess.
Just a small sampling of the hail
We started to survey the damage
The cheap fabric cover that saved our life!
With grass and sticks plastered to the roof and sides of our vehicle, we knew immediately what happened – it was a tornado. Dan stands soaking (and yes, it looks like he wet his pants, but that was purely from the sunroof breaking and rain coming in).
Despite the large egg on my leg and cuts from the glass, we knew we were okay, when others were not. When we stepped out of the vehicle, I vividly remember people screaming. Something I will never forget. Dan suggested we quickly get back in the vehicle and try to get out, as there were people who needed help and we needed to make room for emergency vehicles, as sirens started to sound. I eventually went into the back seat to escape the glass, Dan helped up what was left of the sunroof, and we drove the 20 miles down to Louisville. We arrived at the entrance to the hotel and received quite the looks from people passing by. Dan wanted me to stay by the vehicle because anyone could have stolen our stuff due to lack of windows.
When he figured out where to go, we drove into the parking garage, and were immediately met by people who saw the damage. They asked if we were okay and all we could say was “I think so…”
Dan called our insurance company, asked if he should send pictures, and the news of the tornadoes actually made it up to the news in Michigan already, so no proof was needed.
But we were left with a vehicle that was not road worthy.
In the meantime, we checked in and saw one of our youth ministry heroes if you will, and he asked if we were okay. I think we must have just stared at him because he said we looked like deer in headlights. We told him what had happened and little did we know, he had lined up an upgrade to our room, and other little perks throughout the weekend. Though it was not needed, it was humbling to take our mind off reality and enjoy the weekend in a special way.
Though we were still left with no way to get home safely.
In the meantime, we had numerous people call and text asking if we needed help getting home. Some good friends of ours who lived in Ohio, made the 3 hour drive down to Louisville, to help patch our car, just enough so we could at least get it home. Though, we knew that it would take a miracle to not have it totaled.
Our friends spent their entire Saturday helping us patch our destroyed vehicle. Even more so, it was just refreshing to see familiar faces when it felt everything else was a whirlwind. Glass was everywhere – in and on our suitcases, in our hair, our pillows, clothes, and little cuts were everywhere on our bodies. So to see friends who offered so much to lend a helping hand, is something we could never thank them enough for! Not to mention, they brought all kinds of things to make our vehicle driveable. It’s not like we could go drive to the store to get a shop vac, duct tape, you name it!
So one main session at the conference (that we did attend the best we could), the speaker handed out little mirrors. People kept dropping them and we just laughed, wondering why you’d hand out mirrors to 1,000s of youth pastors – you know they are going to play with them! Well, little did we know that it was our saving grace, since we legally needed a mirror to drive home! It was little but it was a mirror!
Our friend doing a FANTASTIC job of making a “window”!
This dent just shows how big of hail came flying in!
Since we were in the middle of downtown Louisville, there was no good place to do the work, except in the parking garage!
Thank goodness parking garages have outlets and friends who have shop vacs!
The picture that is most humbling, is of the dents in this area. When we got our vehicle home, we brought it to the auto body and as the workers surveyed the damage, they said that these dents should have never happened. It is part of the roll cage, and it made to NOT dent. They said if those pieces came into my window, we would not be alive. Plus, my head was about 4-5 inches below these dents.
Needless to say, our vehicle was totaled and we were in the business of finding a new vehicle. During this time, we were also in the process of meeting with the fertility center and preparing to do IVF, thanks to the offer from Brenda to carry our babies. This experience definitely urged us to make sure we have a “will” of some sorts set up, knowing our lives could end at anytime!
Because of this experience, it gave us a bigger picture of who God is, His majesty, His power, and His grace. Over 14 people were killed that day and we know we could have been part of that statistic. This experience taught me that every moment on this earth truly is a gift. Things happen that are completely out of our control and it is up to us on how we are going to respond. With love and grace or anger and condemnation? Even though this was 5 years ago, we remember like it was yesterday and the impact it has had on our lives is just as great…if not greater!