Locked closet leads to classic failure in tornado readiness
By 02/15/2001 00:00:00
Ellis County Press
It was the night the tornado ripped through downtown Fort Worth and then wound its destructive way through South Arlington.
I was recovering from pneumonia at home with my five-year-old boy and his new puppy.
I was watching TV, all programming having been summarily pre-empted by the storm and its effects. I listened intently as people in Fort Worth office buildings called in to tell the newscasters their version of what was happening around them.
And I panicked.
My sister-in-law and her husband were at work in a building right smack in the middle of downtown Fort Worth.
'Are they OK?' I wondered desperately. Needless to say, I was unable to reach either of them by telephone.
Ticking through their plans for the week, I realized Jim was out of town but was expected to fly into DFW that evening. I hoped against hope he was already on the ground and both of them were tucked safely in a huge airport terminal riding out the storm.
But I wasn't done panicking.
My husband was taking a class that evening - you guessed it, in Arlington. South Arlington, North Arlington, East Arlington - I had not a single clue how to tell one from the other or where exactly one might find the University of Texas at Arlington.
All I knew was that he was there or was on his way there, and so was the tornado.
Then Ellis County flashed up on my TV screen as an area under tornado watch.
I went into protective overdrive.
'OK,' I thought to myself. 'Everyone I love is dead. Except Daniel. Gotta take care of Daniel.'
I walked into my son's room and announced, as calmly as I could, a tornado was coming, and just in case it came closer, we needed to know what to do.
'We'll go into this closet,' I said. 'And there's a flashlight in here, and some food. But what you really need to know is if I say to come, you have to come immediately!'
He was fine with that.
I went back to the living room and continued watching as amateur videos of the devastation began reaching the TV station. Glued to the set, it took me a few minutes to realize what my son was doing.
He was loading everything he owned into the closet!
Back I went - 'Honey, that won't work, it will be too crowded in here. Only a few special things can be in here with us.'
He didn't agree.
'It's okay, Mom. I'll stand here, you stand there.'
He indicated a 12-inch square on which I could plant my feet.
'No, son, no. It will be too crowded. We won't be comfortable, and we might have to stay in there for quite a while. We need to be comfortable.'
'It'll be okay, Mom.'
'No, it'll be too crowded. Watch, I'll show you.'
With that I stepped into my allotted corner and pulled the door shut with a slam. It was dark, very dark. And stuffy. And extremely crowded.
'See what I mean? It's too crowded. Now get this stuff out of here.'
I could not turn around - the space was too small. So I reached behind my back to open the door, and that's when I discovered that there was no doorknob on the inside.
At that same exact moment I heard a loud crash in the living room and was instantly aware that the puppy was eating something he shouldn't. (It turned out to be my answering machine.)
Let me remind you I was convinced at this particular point all my local family members were missing and presumed dead. And should some miracle happen and my husband make his pitiful way home, (I say pitiful because if he was alive he should have called to say so!) he was not expected for another four hours.
Chomp, chomp, chomp. Yes, you can hear a dog eat an answering machine, even from inside a closet in the next room.
I guess if the tornado had been closer, the sturdiness of the closet door would have been a plus. But I have to say, I didn't appreciate it just then.
I pushed and shoved, pounded with the end of the flashlight, cursed the pile of toys preventing me from turning around or sitting down to obtain leverage with my legs.
Finally I gave the door the old one-two with a mother's stout hip. Nothing. I gave it the three-four. Nothing.
There was another crash in the living room. (It turned out to be the telephone.)
That did it. Adrenaline kicked in.
I gave the door the five-six-seven and broke the 90-year-old fitting right out of the 90-year-old frame, tumbling out gracefully like a spring-loaded snake in a jar.
Fortunately, I only hit my head - no harm done.
I was quite honestly surprised when my husband came home alive. And even more surprised when he thought the whole thing was funny.
'You didn't check to see if there was a doorknob?' he asked as if it were the most normal thing in the world to do.
'What about you?' I said as he laughed uncontrollably. 'Didn't you notice you were in a tornado?'
Yes, they had noticed. But since there wasn't really anything to do about it, they went ahead with class.
Not a single engineer in the group excused himself to phone home.
But it probably didn't really matter. Most likely, all the other wives were locked in closets, and all the other puppies had eaten the phones.
Don't you think?