Saturday, June 1, 2013

Natural Disasters

Tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes all can seem like the wrath of God to those who witness their destruction from afar. Pure evil to those who survive them and must deal with the devastation left in their wake. I don't claim to have lived through a natural disaster or even witnessed one from afar, except on TV, but having lived in California my entire life I have danced with the occasional earthquake. But when I see the destruction that wind can unleash I can't help but feel a little lucky. Not just lucky to not have been there, but lucky that I have not had to endure the aftermath of it all. Grief for the fallen, the displaced, the injured, and the alone. Lucky not to know what it is like to have your whole world literally in ruins.

I imagined: Waking up to roaring thunder and flashes of lightening that illuminates my bedroom. A storm is coming. I turn on the local news for details only to find that my life may be changing soon. A twister has touched down two counties away and is hop-scotching its way here.

I hurry outside to secure the storm shutters. The rain is heavy and the thunder is loud. I didn’t realize just how many windows there were until now. Back inside, my wife and I warm ourselves with coffee and flip between the local news and the national weather channels. This is real! An F-4 and expected to grow. We decide to head down into the basement, the safest place in the house to be if the worst should happen.

Even in the basement we could hear the rain pounding harder and harder and the wind howling as it grew closer. The speckling of debris against the house was a terrifying gage to judge the storm’s proximity. Not just the house but the earth began to tremble as if a freight train was running through my house. We huddle in a corner and plead with God for our lives and our home and for the wellbeing of the whole community but we are interrupted by what I can only describe as our house exploding around us. This is that serene moment when you except your fate and prepare to die. Time crawls and what is in reality only a few seconds, seems to never end. The tremendous noise and destruction around you seem to fade into oblivion as you await the inevitable.

I wake up this time to silence. I cannot move or see anything except a small blotch of sun light that must be coming from above. The tornado has moved on to destroy lives in another town. It’s cold. I’m wet. I can taste blood in my mouth. Where is my wife? Pain is the last sense to come online. I think my arm is broken. Where is my wife? I muster up the strength to call her name. Nothing. Have I lost my beautiful wife along with our home to this monster? Why could it not have been me instead? Will someone come and rescue me or will I slowly starve to death buried in what used to be my basement? Am I even still in my basement? I have heard stories of people being carried away by the fierce winds of a tornado. Is this punishment for my sins? I can do nothing but sit helpless and evaluate my life and hope and pray that this is not as bad as it seems to me now but I know that in all likelihood it’s much worse.

I hear something moving nearby. I call her name again. My wife moans and answer. She’s alive! No matter what else the storm has taken from me it did not take my wife. No matter the devastation to ourselves, our home, or our town, we are alive and will get through this disaster. I call for her to come to me but she cannot. We are trapped not five feet apart but I cannot see her. We take comfort in that we are together and we know it’s only a matter of time until someone comes looking for survivors.

Almost forty-eight hours had passed, pinned in the most awkward position possible, before we could hear the rescue party in the distance. We held each other emotionally and cried because we knew that the two day long nightmare was coming to an end. We gathered strength from somewhere we could not fathom and called for help until a rescue dog heard us. I was never so pleased to hear a barking dog in all my life. Freed from a brief stint in our own personal purgatory, the devastation that was left in the wake of the storm was incomprehensible. Not a house, nor tree, was left standing. We were among the fortunate to have only lost things. Corpses being dragged from beneath rubble made that very clear. Neighbors were sifting through trash heaps that used to be their homes while clinging to bits of their former lives.

Some would clean up, rebuild, and move on while others relocate to where the windy monster does not feed. But there are few places on earth without some form of natural disaster. We live in Tornado Alley, atop seismic faults, and at the bases of volcanoes. We are aware of the pending danger and do our best to prepare and prevent but in the end we are all subject to her wrath. We take what Mother Nature throws at us. We learn from it and we get stronger. Most of us will never know her wrath first hand but those who live through it will forever be changed by it. The rest of us lucky enough to miss the destructive power of Mother Nature should be ready to lend a hand, or a dollar, at a moment’s notice when she strikes the less fortunate. It could be you or someone you love.