I will never forget May 4th, 2003.
10 years ago today was the Sunday before finals during my first year at William Jewell College in Liberty, MO. That morning I ran to Target to get some supplies for my theater class final project. I came back to campus and was grumpy because my great parking spot right in front of the dorm was gone and I had to park far away. My roommate was at dance tryouts for the day so I had the room to myself and I set to work preparing myself for all of my finals that week.
The weather had been nasty that week and we were under a tornado watch the entire weekend. For those of you that don't live in the Midwest, tornado watches are extremely common for us and most of us don't even notice them. I grew up in Kansas, most every day in spring we are under a tornado watch. We only start to worry if there is an actual tornado warning. Even then, you'll see many Kansas folks standing on their porches looking at the sky. During my 18 years in Kansas, I remember countless tornado warnings spent in the basement with no actual tornadoes ever touching down.
At about 4:30, I was talking to my parents and some friends online when the tornado sirens started to go off. With a sigh, I messaged everyone to tell them we were under a tornado warning and that I was going to the basement and would be back soon. I left my computer on and my purse in its normal place. I threw flip flops on and headed downstairs with the few other girls that were still in the dorm. We sat in the rec room in the basement with the big screen tv and chatted while sort of listening to the weather. At around 5 PM, we heard that there was a tornado touch down in Liberty and the RAs quickly started to usher us into the cement hallway next to the laundry room. As we were rushing in, we all heard a sound that I'm sure we'll never forget. It sounded like a train right next to us and my ears popped hard. We stayed in the laundry room until the noise passed and after a few minutes, we heard the sirens stop. The people in charge went out to check on everything and quickly came back in and started telling us that we needed to get out of the building. We came out of the basement and upstairs to find that we basically had to climb out of the building. The 4th floor and roof of the dorm had been completely ripped off and set down right in front of the building. The guys from the fraternities were there to help us climb out and guide us all the way around campus down to the gym. During all of this, we were all passing around our cell phones so that
we could let our families know that we were ok. Service was very hit and
miss and I was able to call my parents long enough to tell them "We
were hit by the tornado. We're ok, we're climbing out of the building
now" and then then phone died. My parents were more than a little freaked
out and my dad hopped in the car and started the 3 hour drive before I
was even able to call them back. We couldn't go the direct way to the gym because there were down trees, power lines, and debris everywhere. It looked like a disaster zone. The married housing apartments were hit hardest and were almost gone. The steeple of the chapel was knocked over and several of the dorms and the student union had holes in the roofs. Amazingly enough, there were absolutely no injuries or deaths with all of the destruction. We were very blessed that many students had gone home that weekend and we had procedures in place for emergencies that were followed to keep everyone safe.
When we got to the gym, we were moved into the locker rooms because they were worried that another tornado was coming. Thankfully it never did. After that risk passed, they moved everyone outside so that the faculty could get everyone organized and plans made. Right before the tornado came, my roommate had injured her leg during dance tryouts and was confined to the gym and I was able to stay in there with her. I overhead the faculty talking and found out that they were cancelling finals due to the state of the campus. They were concerned that our dorm was not structurally sound and the student union was not usable. It basically wasn't safe for all of us to stay on campus. After they announced the cancellation, they moved us into the classroom buildings so that we could rest and we were able to stay there overnight if needed. My dad got there and we went to see if we could get back into my room and to check on my car. This is what we found:
Thankfully no one lived on the 4th floor of the dorm. However, my room was on the 3rd floor. We had no idea if we had anything left in our room and we were not allowed in for about a week due to concerns over the structural soundness of the building. I didn't have any of my clothes or my purse. My ID, credit card, and cell phone were all in my room.
The cars that were in the lot that I had lost my great spot in earlier that morning were crushed flat. The roof had landed on them and they were not at all salvageable. My car was in bad shape but was still drivable. This is how we found it.
It was full of debris and covered in dirt.
After helping clean up the campus some, my dad and I returned home the next morning with no real idea when we would be let back into my room. The next week we finally got the ok to come back to town and move out of the dorm.
This is what we found in our room:
The hole in the ceiling was fairly large and everything in our room was wet. The floor and our beds were covered in dirt, insulation and debris. We lost all of our bedding, papers and books that were around the room. Luckily all of our electronics made it through.
It was very surreal going back on campus. The gorgeous campus that was lined with old trees looked depressing. It was weird to miss finals and to have no closure to the year. Our grades were just finished with no finals. The campus was cleaned up over the summer and we returned back to classes as normal in the fall. But the campus never looked the same and I'm not nearly as blasé about tornadoes as I used to be. In fact, I'm paranoid about them. Tornado sirens freak me out. I'm now always sure to take my purse and closed toed shoes with me to the basement during tornado warnings now. Hopefully it's something I won't have to deal with again.
I will never forget that day!