Talking the Tuscaloosa Blues while Another Monster Tornado Winds Through Joplin, Missouri
5/22/2011 10:35 PM
As I write this, the images of a tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri today are starting to come in, and so far, they look a lot like what I saw in Tuscaloosa. I had a bumpy flight into Kansas City, which is north of Joplin, just before the tornado struck. In the morning, I will be talking to a group of FEMA VOAD liaisons about the Studio Protector and the efforts to help artists prepare for emergencies, and to build a better emergency safety net for artists. VOADs are “Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster” and representatives from many of these secular and faith-based organizations are gathering for their annual conference this week in Kansas City.
I have to admit that the onslaught of disasters this year, along with the destruction I saw in Alabama, makes our efforts seem insignificant compared to of the power of nature. But, I have also seen the determination of people to put their lives and careers back together, and the value of knowing what to do after an emergency, evidenced by the countless VOADs that were on the ground in Tuscaloosa, each carving out a little piece of recovery.
Celia O'Kelley surveys damage with member of
Texas chainsaw crew
When I walked across the street from Steve Miller’s house to Celia O’Kelley’s home, the chainsaw crew from a church near Houston, Texas, was walking the property with Celia, deciding what to do with the remains of her trees, and getting the necessary permission to work on her property. Incredibly, her house sustained serious damage to the roof, but it was mild in comparison to that of many of her neighbors. The house next door also was not ripped apart, but part of the second floor was gone, proving the wisdom of sheltering on as low a level of the building as possible.
Celia O’Kelley is a fine jeweler and enamellist. The scale of her work allows her to maintain a studio at home, like a lot of other jewelers do. She had a crew onsite packing up all of her belongings, including her studio for storage. Despite the fact that the damage is repairable, the city has determined that she cannot occupy the house until it is repaired, and right now, there is no way to know how long that will take.
Tornados are famous for surreal images and stories they leave in their wake. The Baptist chainsaw crew told me of a steel girder wrapped around a tree creating what they saw as a cross. Steve Miller found a fragile glass globe, undamaged in the debris. A tree was uprooted in Celia’s back yard, and the tornado left a shovel in the hole, not Celia’s shovel, but one the tornado brought with it. In the South, where storytelling is an essential part of life, there is an unwritten rule that it is worth enduring a fair amount of hardship if it results in a good story. A lot of stories, of horror, heroism, and humor will be taken back from the storm that has taken so much from this community. In fact, barely a week after the tornado struck, a group of 44 writers from Alabama had published an e-book about the tornado experience titled Tuscaloosa Runs This. The book can be downloaded free at www.brianoliu.com/ebook/.
Flying shrapnel-like debris blew this hole in Steve Miller's wall:
Another good reason for sheltering in a basement or interior
room, and protecting oneself from flying glass and debris.
For the record: Celia said the tornado did sound like a freight train, but it was coming from an area where there were no train tracks. Another artist said it sounded like "a million voices whispering."
Here are some tips on surviving a tornado