May 8, 2009 started bright and clear, just like any other Friday in Southern Illinois. I had a quiet day planned, including an appointment to take a photo in the afternoon for a newspaper I write for.
Around 10 a.m., my husband called from his workplace in Herrin to suggest I should reschedule my photo appointment. The photo was at Herrin Northside Elementary School at 1 p.m. He told me he’d heard that a very bad storm was moving our way and he thought I should stay in with our three kids (they are homeschooled).
I got online to check the weather radar and saw a forecast for severe thunderstorms expected to start around noon. I called to reschedule my appointment then loaded up the kids to make a quick jaunt 10 miles into Marion to pick up my paycheck from the newspaper.
At the bank, while I cashed my check, the bank tellers were abuzz with talk of the coming storm. I was trying to hurry because I had a bad feeling and didn’t want to linger away from home.
Thunder and lightning were already starting while I was still in Marion. My phone rang – it was my mom. She had closed the library where she worked (located a short distance from my home), picked up my grandmother and headed the three miles south to her home. She urged the kids and I to come to her house, which was located next to my grandparents’ house (which featured a basement).
I stopped by my house long enough to let the kids grab some books and I grabbed my laptop, then headed toward my parents’ house.
Mom already had the local weather on and they were urging residents in the whole region to take shelter. Tornado warnings and reports of sighted funnel clouds were being reported.
As we watched the radar, the storm was forming in a horseshoe shape – swirling and developing a center eye.
The front edge of the storm hit, bringing some rain and high winds. I stood outside on the porches taking pictures and watching tree limb bowing and swaying.
The sound from the wind was very loud and we watched lawn chairs blow around the yard. The power flickered off and on, then eventually the storm died down and stopped. We thought all was clear, so Mom decided to go back to work and my kids and I loaded up to head back toward home.
I drove about halfway home, then got another phone call. Mom said she’d heard another warning on the radio as she and Grandma got ready to leave her driveway: The Emergency Management Director was urging all residents to stay inside and brace for a second round of storms that was expected to be much worse. He went on to say they were expecting winds to reach a minimum of 80 miles per hour.
I was almost home, so I decided to at least pull into my driveway, make sure things were alright, then drive back to my parents’ home.
I had intended to run inside to grab a couple of things, but decided to not even get out of the car. That proved to be a wise decision as we made it back to Mom and Dad’s in just enough time to get inside before the storm started in full force.
As we drove back toward Mom and Dad’s, the wind was already picking up and I could feel my Suburban shaking. A limb flew out of a tree and hit the windshield in front of my face, thankfully it didn’t crack the glass.
I instructed my kids that when I pulled into the driveway, as soon as I gave the word they should jump out and run as fast as they could to get inside.
Once we were inside, the storm was already picking up. We continued to watch the weather report from the local TV station until the satellite went out. Then we listened to the radio until the power went out.
My husband called and told me to stay in a safe place because the storm that was coming my way was really bad. He told me that at his workplace they’d watched the top of a house roll across the highway in front of the building and they’d lost power. He said the tornado sirens were going off.
While we had communication, we heard that Carbondale and Herrin (where my husband works) were under tornado warnings. Before losing satellite and power we heard a warning that in Carbondale, there were registered wind gusts of 106 miles per hour.
The winds continued to pick up and I kept snapping pictures.
I watched as the black clouds moved toward us in an unusual formation, bringing the wind. I have always heard that tornadoes sound like freight trains – there was no tornado, but the wind sounded like a loud train rushing around us.
We could hear the roof groaning and watched as debris flew around outside.
Mom and I shuffled the kids and my grandmother into the center hallway of the house. My nine-year-old daughter was terrified and I prayed with the kids – asking for safety and for God to calm their fears.
Eventually, the storm died down and ended. My husband called again and said he was safe but there were trees down everywhere and he could hear emergency sirens.
I told Mom to keep the kids occupied while I drove to my home to survey damage. As I tried to drive the three miles north toward home, I found more and more damage along the way. Trees were down – either broken off or completely uprooted. One home had the remnants of a barn roof all over the yard. I saw mangled trampolines in some yards. Broken trees and limbs were held aloft by power lines in several places.
When I about less than 100 feet from the road I live on I had to stop. There were trees over the road and broken power lines.
I had to turn around and head back to another back road in an attempt to get to my house. That road led to another large tree blocked the road. I had to turn around again and head another direction. I passed several vehicles trying to do the same thing. I stopped all that I could to warn them that the road was blocked.
I tried another route and was stopped by another vehicle – the man told me the way I was going was clear enough to get through, but I would have to circle around out to the highway and try to get home the back way.
Once out on the highway, I was shocked at the damage I saw. A large vending truck was lying on its side in the center of the highway between the westbound and eastbound lanes. Several power poles were snapped off.
I turned onto the road that runs in front of my house and found more tree damage. Several large trees were uprooted or broken and scattered.
When I approached my driveway, I could see that there was heavy tree damage. A neighbor’s large tree was uprooted and pushed over into our yard. That tree had snapped an electrical high line. Our trampoline lay in a mangled heap in the driveway – about 50 feet or so from where it had been. Several large limbs were broken out of several of the 20-plus trees in our yard.
Two trees at the back property line were uprooted but not completely pushed over. I saw my neighbor out in her yard and I went over to check on her. She had been home and watched our trampoline fly through the air.
None of the falling trees or flying debris did any serious damage. We are still doing clean up, but I am so thankful to God for His care – things could have been so much worse.
To see a slideshow of the storm, during and after – click here.