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Recounting the Tornado – 15 Years Later

The thoughts and prayers of the nation are still with Oklahoma and all those who recently suffered through the devastating tornado which caused incalculable damage. And while not on the same level of destructiveness, residents of Mechanicville and Stillwater have their own memories of a tornado.

May 31st will mark 15 years since an F3 tornado touched down and carved a path through our area.  And while may seem like a long time ago, ask anyone who experienced that day and they will be able to recall it as if it only occurred a week ago.

Like a large number of people in this area, my family was greatly impacted by the tornado. Even though I was young, just about to finish sixth grade, that day and the events that followed will stay with me for a lifetime.

One memory from that day is looking out the window shortly before the tornado began and seeing just how calm things were outside and the sky was a color I had never seen before. My mother was paying attention to the outside too, and out of nowhere she rushed us down to the basement. To this day she can’t say what exactly made her decide to go to the basement when she did. But her decision was made at exactly the right time, as I had barely gotten off the last step of the basement when my ears popped from the change in pressure and we heard every window in the house shatter at the same moment.

As the minutes passed, we sat and waited and listened to the pounding rain and wind ripping through the house. Adding to the uneasiness was the fact that my father was not home at the time. In the basement was myself, my mother, my younger sister and our dog. Earlier that day my father had left to go help a friend in Stillwater who was building a new home. The obvious irony here is that it was now our home that would soon be being rebuilt. With this being in that oh so dark age before cell phones were common, we had no way of knowing where he was or if he had gotten caught in the storm.

After the storm had passed, we came out of the basement and saw a carpet of broken glass and debris now covered the floor. In the living room mixed with the glass was the popcorn I had made to sit and watch television with and barely had a chance to eat any before heading to the basement. Pictures were no longer on the wall, furniture had been overturned and the proverbial look of a bomb going off was what had become of our house.

In going outside, we went to the bottom of our driveway to get a look of what had befallen the rest of the homes on our street, Route 67. The road was impassable as it was covered with a mix of felled trees and power lines. While we were taking it all in, we saw my father running up the road. Were it a novel or movie script, I would dismiss a scene like that as being too cheesy, but that’s how it happened, and it immediately caused a sense of relief in knowing that he was okay. It turned out to be a good thing that he was out when the tornado hit, as his car was parked safely by DiSiena Furniture and we gathered what we could and were able to leave. Even if not for the road being blocked, taking my mother’s car may not have been an option as during the course of the storm, our barbecue grill was lifted off the porch and the force of the wind had it planted firmly in the side of the car.

After it was over, our house was still standing, but the wind had taken off a considerable portion of the roof and the ensuing rain caused extensive damage and we were forced to gut the house and start over again.

With stories like this, there are always two parts. First, the destruction, the damage done to a home, a car, a lifetime of personal possessions being sucked out of a window and never seen again. The second part is the enduring power of people to come back from it all. To look at the crumbled pieces and then put them back together again. Events like this, tragic as they are, serve to point out the good in so many people. Everyone who was impacted by that storm, I’m sure, can tell you a story of receiving help from somebody in the community. In the case of my family, we had friends, and friends of friends come to our house on several occasions to help with the clean up. The friend my father was helping that day owned a building on Saratoga Avenue that he served as landlord for. And instead of having normal tenants in one of the apartments and collecting rent, he let us stay there until our house was rebuilt and ready for us to move in again, which happened 7 months after the tornado. So while the wind may be able to huff and puff and blow our houses down, something it cannot do is destroy the sense of community we all share, and the overwhelming desire to give help to those who need it.

 

Photos courtesy of Kyle Adams

*None of these photos are of my home

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