We just got back from checking out the devastation left in the wake of the F4 tornado that touched down minutes from our apartment last night. I'm sure many of you have seen the images on TV - but after witnessing it firsthand, I can tell you that television doesn't do it justice.
It's one thing to see smashed homes and fallen trees on television. There's still a bit of psychological separation from the situation because so much television programming is larger than life. We see it, but we don't completely comprehend the weight of it. We feel bad, then we flip the channel over to Seinfeld or Family Guy and move on with our night.
Driving through it brings the weight of it crashing home. Hard.
Just to be clear, Laura and I are safe. So are her parents. Our apartment and their home were spared. Laura's uncle wasn't so lucky. His roof and front door were torn off, windows blown out, and his puppy was killed when the fridge fell on it.
St. Charles Rock Road, the highway were we do most of our usual shopping, was hit hard. The tornado must have run alongside it for quite a distance before cutting through the town of Bridgeton. Alongside the big name places like Home Depot and iHop, there are a lot of smaller mom-and-pop independently own businesses lining the highway. We pass them daily - sometimes more than once. So when we saw buildings crumbled, missing walls, smashed windows, mangled signs, crumpled trees, twisted power lines, and various debris littering the street, it sent my heart to the soles of my feet and put a lump in my throat the size of a melon.
There's a pub called The Penalty Box that was mangled. A mom-and-pop glass repair shop that was pretty much leveled. A mechanics shop decimated. A brown building - I don't even remember what it was - was half-collapsed, the inside exposed like an open autopsy. And everywhere, people stood in helpless awe, staring at the broken pieces of their lives.
Further down, the trail of destruction moved onto highway 70. I described the scene to my mother like this: Imagine a long highway with trees lining either side. Now imagine that a dinosaur marches up and down each side and chomps off the top halves of each tree before moving on to the next. Or, if you prefer, imagine a giant baseball player walking up and down the highway smashing the tops of every tree apart with a huge bat. Trunks shatter, branches crumble, limbs fly, leaves fall.
The aftermath is what highway 70 looks like now.
Then it was on to Bridgeton. Laura and I were trying to get to a local Italian restaurant this afternoon when detours led us into the heart of town. It was once a nice little rural area. Lots of trees on every street, quaint little one-floor homes, flags and chimes hanging from their front porches, and mailboxes of varying design at the end of every driveway. Anytown, USA, for the most part.
Now, you can barely see the pavement beneath the leaves and crushed branches. Most homes had at least one fallen tree, some in their front yard, and others right through their homes. There were people everywhere trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. On one front lawn, I saw a little old lady just standing and staring. Her house seemed to have been spared, but her neighbor wasn't so lucky. And I can tell you from my own experience that you didn't have to be affected by the damage directly to have been hurt by this storm.
Of course, there's our airport, not ten minutes from us. It suffered millions of dollars of damage. A bus was thrown on TOP of concourse C. A plane was moved from one terminal to another. Tons of windows blown, lines of seats from inside were found outside, clumps of insulation everywhere, crumpled signs - the list goes on and on.
The news is saying this is the worst St. Louis has seen since 1967. The trail stretched for miles through nine municipalities, damaging over 750 homes. It was an F4 tornado with winds up to about 160 mph.
Our sense of security has been taken away. Although this city is in "Tornado Alley," St. Louis itself rarely has real tornadoes within city limits. For the most part, they go north or south. Before tonight, a Youtube search for St. Louis tornado would've brought up little in the way of results. Some claimed there was a tornado near a local mall last year, but there was no visible tornado in the videos posted. This kind of thing just didn't happen in the city. But now that it has, I'm sure many others will feel the same spike of panic that I now feel when seeing a forecast for more thunderstorms (we're supposed to get more tonight and tomorrow).
The silver lining? No deaths and few injuries. None severe.
As a Christian, I've been surrounded by people telling me that there's no God for the majority of my life. But after driving through the devastation I saw today, the news that none were killed only confirmed my belief that God was watching over us.
And this was just one tornado. There were more elsewhere, but I believe our area suffered the most damage this time.
After seeing the destruction, first on TV and then in reality, I can't help but wonder just how much MORE devastating the Japanese tsunami was for those who experienced it in person. Things are far worse in person than they are on TV.
So pray for our city. Pray for our people. I don't care if you're not religious or don't believe in God. We need all the prayers we can get. Pray for Japan. Pray for the Japanese people. They need all the prayers they can get.
Thanks for reading. Should you be interested in helping with the relief efforts, I've provided a few links below.
St. Louis Red Cross Relief Efforts: http://www.redcrossstl.org/2011SpringStorms.aspx
Japan Red Cross Relief Efforts (Bottom Choice): http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main
By Telephone: 800-RED-CROSS