Weathering The Storm
When talking to Decatur resident Karen Hurley about the April 19, 1996, tornado she and her family survived, the key word is obvious: “Survive.”
Yet after the dark eerie clouds, blinding rain, and devastating winds passed, the initial reaction was an odd sense of denial. Both Hurley and fellow local survivor Brad Storm didn’t grasp, initially, that their homes had been hit.
But even when one’s eyes can see, the mind can’t always comprehend.
In Hurley’s case, she was surrounded by the utter destruction that was the cul-de-sac on Gary Drive in Home Park, the site of her new home. The area was literally leveled, except the half of her house left standing. Yet it took awhile for Hurley to fully realize that the contents of her young daughter Lauren’s bedroom had been sucked out; the roof had been completely lifted and set back down (leaving curtains stuck between the walls and the ceiling); and that the family room was totally gone.
For Storm, the tornado was practically over before he even realized what was happening. When he heard the porch overhang vibrating, Storm thought it was simply loose and needed repair. And when the entire porch began to move, Storm calmly wondered why. It literally took the entire porch blowing off for him to realize that, perhaps, he should take cover. Coming around the corner, Storm saw the porch and roof of his house lying in his backyard. Only then did he realize he’d been through a tornado.
As with survival of any catastrophic loss, there are stages of grief related to surviving a tornado.
“The tornado hit Friday evening,” Hurley says, “and on Saturday, we were allowed back in the house.
“John (a family friend) and my husband Bill were moving the bed rail out, explaining they were taking the bed rail and box springs — one of the few salvageable items — back to our old house. When I asked why, they answered ‘so you’ll have somewhere to sleep.’ My response was, ‘I’m not moving back there — I just moved here and I’m staying here.
“John said, ‘Karen, you can see the sky in your bedroom. You can’t stay here.’ But I wasn’t ready to deal with the reality of it.”
After denial came anger. When her sister, Linda, said, “She’s in shock, keep moving, keep packing,” Hurley remembers, for that moment, hating her. She was also furious at Bill, who was at a visitation at the time, for not being there when the tornado struck.
What followed was an almost obsessive need to have every single thing as it was before that fateful evening — or, to exert some level of control over an uncontrollable situation in order to function.
So how does one survive a tornado? “First and foremost,” says Hurley, “it is by the grace of God . “Then come the love and strength of family and friends.”
Storm agrees. “I never had to say a word,” he says. “Dad and I had to get the crops in. That Saturday, I had a driveway full of people. They went to work, got the house all buttoned up and everything cleaned up.”
Occasionally, Lauren Hurley wonders whatever happened to the stuffed kitty that disappeared in the storm. And to this day, Hurley reassures her daughter that, somewhere, there’s another girl, now also 21, who still cherishes the kitty that blew into her life that frightening day.
Little did Contributor Sally Betscher know what lay ahead for the Hurleys when they dropped off her daughter, Natalie, before racing the tornado to their Home Park home the night of April 19, ‘96.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2009 issue of Decatur Magazine. It may not be reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part without the publisher’s consent.
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