The Tot and the Twister: A Real-Life Tornado Drama
When a tornado struck near their hometown of Forney, Texas, the Enochs almost lost it all: Here's the amazing story behind how they held on.
On April 3, 2012, in the Diamond Creek subdivision of Forney, Texas, the Enochs family awoke to an ordinary day. Sherry Enochs, 52, saw her husband, Mike, off to his job in nearby Dallas and her 15-year-old son, Denver, off to school. Then she opened the doors of her at-home day care to the two small children she would be watching that day. At around 11:30, Sherry’s daughter Lindsey, 22, kissed her 19-month-old son, Laine, left him in her mother’s care, and hurried off to her own day care job.
Quiet, strong, and compassionate, Sherry Enochs had spent her life taking care of everyone. She had raised five children of her own and was a doting grandmother. Today, in addition to Laine and the two children she was watching—19-month-old Abigail and three-year-old Connor—the house was home to two dogs (a Pekingese and an ancient two-pound Chihuahua), a mother cat with a newborn litter of kittens in a playpen in the bedroom, and a couple of goldfish.
Around midday, she got a call from her daughter Megan, 26, who was five months pregnant and living about seven miles away in Heartland. “Look at the TV, Mom,” she said.
On-screen, news crews were showing footage from Lancaster, just 30 miles away, of a tornado hurling tractor-trailers around.
“Is it coming this way?” asked Sherry.
“No. It sounds like it’s going to stay west of Forney.”
reader's digest/tom husseyRelieved, Sherry turned her attention back to the children, busying herself to such an extent that she never heard the sirens warning residents to seek shelter. Laine was in his toddler bed watching a cartoon. Connor and Abigail were playing on the floor. Then Sherry’s cell rang: Megan again.
“Mom, look outside!” This time, there was a note of urgency in her voice.
Sherry went down the hallway to her bedroom. She looked out the window, and her heart lodged in her throat. A tornado was tearing across the open field adjacent to the subdivision. It was massive—a great vaporous funnel with a dogleg bend in it tapering down to an earthward point all the more menacing for its slender, stylus-like precision. Behind it the sky was black, and at its edges bits of debris were churning as it passed over businesses across the way. Was that the dry cleaner’s? she thought. A jagged bolt of lightning fired inside the funnel. The twister’s path was now obvious: It was heading right into Diamond Creek.
“It’s here, Megan,” Sherry yelled. “The tornado is here!”
[pullquote] The tornado even drowned out the sound of its own destruction: no crashing of shattering glass, no moaning of splintering boards—only the hellish, booming roar of 150 mph winds. [/pullquote]
Keeping Megan on the phone, she ran down the hall to the front room. There she scooped up Laine and Abigail and hustled Connor back up the hallway and into the middle bathroom. “Get in the tub,” she ordered the bewildered kids. The Enochses had no cellar, so the tub would be the safest place to take cover.
She climbed into the bathtub and sat Abigail and Connor shoulder-to-shoulder, placing her legs over them. She felt confident they’d stay still, but Laine was panicking, so she clutched him in her lap facing her.
Through the phone Megan heard the roar of the tornado and something else she’d never heard before: Her mother screaming. Then the phone went dead.
For two minutes, Megan called her mother’s name. Then she sank to her knees, sobbing.
The storm sucked harder, nearly yanking the boy free. “I’m losing him!” Sherry shouted.
At 2:00, Lindsey and her colleagues at the day care center got the word to take the children to the building’s “weather areas” (central, windowless rooms). Once she had her kids tucked away safely, she stepped out into the hallway where her bosses were talking about the situation. “Diamond Creek has been hit,” one of them said.
Horrified, Lindsey called her mother. Nothing.
Sherry had expected the tornado to sound like a freight train. That’s what everyone compares it to. But freight trains do not drown out the whole world. There had been an eerie quiet, and then the house’s electrical system had shut down with an audible pop. And soon the winds were so violent that she couldn’t hear her own screams. The tornado even drowned out the sound of its own destruction: no crashing of shattering glass, no moaning of splintering boards—only the hellish, booming roar of 150 mph winds. But whether or not Sherry could hear it, the twister was laying waste to her home. Observers watched as the house seemed to explode into the tornado as if struck by a bomb, turning the funnel from grayish-white to deep brown as it sucked building materials and the family’s belongings up from the ground.
reader's digest/tom husseyAnd then the tornado tried to snatch up Laine. Sherry clutched at her grandson for all she was worth, so much so that she never noticed the broken-off boards with exposed nails slamming into her head, shoulders, back, and ribs, puncturing her skin and leaving bloody holes surrounded by great yellow bruises. She also had no idea that she was no longer in the bathtub. Somehow, the twister had lifted her and the three children free, spilling them into the wind. And now Laine was sliding away from her.
“Megan, have you talked to Mom? Are they OK?” It was Lindsey calling.
Megan was crying. “I don’t know!”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” That’s all she could say.
Ignoring her boss’s pleas to stay put, Lindsey jumped into her car and sped through the empty streets of Forney, squinting through a rain-streaked windshield. The roads were clear until she approached Diamond Creek, where a logjam of emergency vehicles brought her progress to a halt.
Sherry grabbed Laine’s chubby legs above the ankles and strained to pull him back against her. She felt the little boy slipping and applied all her strength to the fearsome tug-of-war she was waging with the tornado.
I’m doing what I can, she thought, but I don’t know if it’s enough. The storm suddenly sucked harder, nearly yanking the boy free, and Sherry bore down, fighting back with the last of her energy. “I’m losing him!”
And then the tornado moved on. The battle was over. The struggle to save Laine had lasted somewhere between four and ten seconds.
As soon as the tornado left Diamond Creek, the subdivision began to fill with police, firefighters, and Good Samaritans. The air hissed with gas from sheared-off piping, and police officers tried to keep civilians away from the homes. An officer shouted to one neighbor to get away from Sherry’s house, but he waved him off, yelling, “There are people in there!”
Dazed, Sherry looked around. Laine was on her lap, shaken and crying. His mouth and nose were filled with mud and insulation, but he was unhurt, aside from a scratch on his arm. But there was no sign of Connor or Abigail. She tried to look for them, but she could not stand up. Spotting the neighbor, she called out for help.
[pullquote] “My mother would do anything to protect a child. Anything.” [/pullquote]
“I’ll get you out, as soon as I can get through this debris.”
reader's digest/tom husseyDebris? Then it hit her: She shouldn’t be able to see him. There were no windows in the middle bathroom. In fact, where was the middle bathroom? Looking about, she realized that she was in the open air, trapped in a small hole, up to her neck in wreckage. As the neighbor worked to free her, others rushed onto the scene. “There are two more kids,” Sherry said, passing Laine through the hole.
When they got her clear, she stood in her flip-flops with Laine in her arms, gaping at what, minutes earlier, had been her home. Nothing was intact except the master bathroom, where a four-foot piece of wall still stood with a crooked pipe and piece of board forming a weird cross at its top. Otherwise, the building was entirely flattened; she could look right over what was left of her house into the backyard. And what she saw there was three-year-old Connor, barefoot among the broken glass and wind-scattered nails, wandering soberly through the debris with no greater injury than a scrape on his head. A police officer scooped him up and carried him to his car.
“There’s one more,” Sherry yelled.
The police officer rushed back to the flattened house, two steps behind one of Sherry’s neighbors, who was following the sounds of a small child’s cries. They found Abigail where two walls had collapsed together leaving a tiny void, and they lifted her out of the rubble. She was scraped and bruised but not seriously injured.
Lindsey counted the houses on her mother’s street. The fourth house—Sherry’s—was nothing but an ugly pile of wood and glass and shingles. She felt the life drain out of her. Somewhere in all that mess, she assumed, lay the lifeless bodies of her mother and son. The police were telling her she couldn’t get any closer to the house, so she jumped the curb and parked in the grass, then ran through the field, losing her shoes in the mud. A firefighter stopped her.
“My mom and my baby. They were in here,” she yelled.
“The grandma and the baby?”
Lindsey burst through a neighbors’ door. There was her mother sitting on the couch, battered and bloodied, holding a muck-covered Laine. A thousand emotions washed over Lindsey. Horror and dread and relief and disbelief had all combined to reduce her to a kind of animal fury. As another sister, Ashley, took a step toward her, Lindsey inexplicably took a swing at her. She pounded on Ashley until she was pulled off, and she came to her senses. Sobbing, she enveloped Laine in her arms, then hugged her mother, repeating, “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry.”
The tornado that destroyed the Enochs home destroyed 73 homes in Diamond Creek, even while some nearby homes were barely touched. Thankfully, there were no fatalities.
Sherry has recovered physically, but emotionally it’s been hard. “We lost everything,” she says. “I’ll have a little meltdown every so often. I’ll just start crying.”
Laine refused to enter a bathtub for a week after the storm but now appears unfazed by the event. Mostly the family is just grateful and incredulous that their loved ones were spared. After the tornado, they found their tiny 14-year-old Chihuahua, Bella, alive and still in her crate, which had landed in the driveway. Their Pekingese and all the kittens and their mother survived unscathed. Only the goldfish perished.
Most of the family’s belongings were smashed or disappeared, with no pattern to what was spared. Sherry’s collection of glass angels survived intact. And Laine’s lightweight toddler bed never budged, although every adult bed in the house was lost.
No one knows how Connor ended up in the backyard or how Abigail came to be found down the hallway from the bathroom where they had taken shelter. Tim Marshall, a meteorologist, says it’s not uncommon for groups of people caught in twisters to end up in different places and to not know how they got there.
“When you’re in a tornado, it’s a fog of rotating debris, with zero visibility,” he says. Factor in the overwhelming noise, and it’s easy to see how anyone would become completely disoriented. Still, Sherry is mystified: The bathtub in which she’d taken shelter was nowhere to be found. It had vanished, blown off to parts unknown.
The family lived with Megan until a new home was built just a stone’s throw from the ruins of their old place. Every day, Lindsey thinks about how her mother never let go of Laine. “It doesn’t surprise me, though,” she says. “My mother would do anything to protect a child. Anything.”