It seemed like a regular spring day as my friend's father took us from our small town just 12 miles outside of Whichita to the Sikes Senter mall to see Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I still remember his dad saying "we're under a tornado watch" and him pointing out the type of clouds to look for. But that afternoon, everything seemed fine. That all changed once we were inside the movie theater. Midway through, the lights blinked and then it all went off. The emergency light came on and his dad (who was very calm) told us to sit still. We listened as what sounded like a freight train went right over our head. I recall being nervous and wanting my own parents, but also remember my friend being bratty and wanting to go to the bathroom. A few moments later (okay, it was probably minutes, but it didn't feel long at all) an usher came in and said that a tornado had gone over and everyone should leave.
Really? Just go?
We walked out and hooked up with the other people we had come with (a woman who had younger kids who were next door seeing Bedknobs and Broomsticks ...why do I recall that). All around us, the mall was destroyed. People were running around, grabbing whatever they could...and I saw my first 'looting' taking place. We went outside and cars were moved around the parking lot like toys. I can recall seeing people bleeding and this dad just took us swiftly back to where he had remembered parking the car.
Once there (and I'm not sure how, but we were able to drive it), we started driving back the 12 miles to get home. Moving perhaps a block every 30 minutes. A car wash had been moved out into an intersection - it was complete mayhem.
|Outside Sikes Senter 1979|
Back home, all the electricity in our small town was out. So my parents were listening to a car radio where someone was reporting from...Sikes Senter. (Little did I know, that very mall was one of the worst hits of the storm.) The man was reporting for radio and making it sound like War of the Worlds...so my mother had enough and had to walk away from listening. My father (the same father who said he was prepared to fly to NYC to look for me if he had to after I was in the first World Trade Center bombing) got in our family car and drove to Whichita to look for us.
I never know how my dad got there...but he was there (didn't find us) and back to our small town before we ever made it home. It took us hours to get there, but once we did...I was so happy. Over 40 people died that day and over $400 million in damages. We were out of school for a week (no electricity for much of it) and I recall going to the grocery store where there were concerns of all the food spoiling.
After that, we'd always run across the street to the neighbors cellar like Dorothy whenever a threat was in the air. It also started my fear of mother nature. Any time we'd have tornado watches or warnings, I'd break out in hives. The first few minutes of the movie Twister almost caused a panic attack in me. And it all steams to that day.
A video from another 9 year old from that tornado.
Sending much prayers to the people around Dallas who are dealing with their own April Tuesday Tornado today. I remember all to well how it feels.