The Voorhes for Reader's Digest
On the day the tornado hit, there was no indication severe weather was on its way—the sky was blue and the sun had been out. The first alert my husband, Jimmy, 67, and I, 65, got came around 9 p.m., from some scrolling text on the TV Jimmy was watching. He ran upstairs to find me in our third-floor bedroom, and we changed the channel from the presidential primary debate I had been watching to our local Pensacola, Florida, station.
No sooner had we found coverage of the tornado than it was on top of us. It was the loudest thing I have ever heard. The bones of the house shook, and the power went out. Pink insulation flew into the room from a trapdoor to the attic, and the wind began to roar through the house, most likely through blown-out windows and the door to our garage. We had three flights of steps to navigate to get to the relative safety of the first floor. Because the closet down there is wedged underneath a brick staircase, it seemed like the sturdiest place in our town house to wait things out.
I didn’t know how or if we would make it down the steps. It felt as if there were no floor underneath me as the wind lifted me off my feet. I gripped the banister and tried to move forward, but this intense pressure held me in place. In those seconds of practical stillness, I could hear everything around me rattling. Everything was moving.
As we reached the last flight of steps, our front door blew out. Shards of glass that looked like crushed ice flew everywhere. Suddenly, a three-foot-long tree branch whipped through the doorframe. It flew over our heads, missing us by inches. Had we been one step up, it would have impaled us.
We got close to the staircase landing only to hear the loud ripping sound of our garage door coming off. The back wall of the house followed suit and tore off into the darkness outside.
By the time I reached the closet, the tornado had been over us for about a minute. Jimmy pushed me down to the closet floor, but he couldn’t get inside himself because of the wind. I gripped Jimmy’s arm as the tornado sucked the door open—we never did get it fully shut—and tried to bring Jimmy with it. My knees and scalp were full of glass, but in that moment, I felt no pain. If I had let go, Jimmy would have flown right out the back of the house and into the bay.
“Hold on! Hold on!” he yelled. But there was nothing in this closet to hold on to. We use it to store Christmas decorations.
All of a sudden, Jimmy lifted off his feet like people in tornadoes do in the movies. I thought he was gone. And then everything stopped. He landed on his feet. In those first quiet moments, I couldn’t believe it was over. Jimmy said he’d go outside to check. “No,” I said. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me.”
Our neighbor says the storm lasted four minutes. In that time, four of the twelve town houses in our unit were completely destroyed. Of the houses left standing, ours suffered the most damage. Amazingly, none of us were severely injured.
If you ever find yourself in the path of a tornado here is how to survive.