Monday, April 18, 2011

Tornado

To be honest, I've been kinda dreading writing this blog post and giving a play by play on what happened that Saturday night. For those who don't know, a F3 Tornado touched down on Tarawa Terrace (which is part of Marine Corps Camp Lejeune, resident housing. Also the side of base my sister lives on.). It's path of destruction was right behind my sister's house. What happened that night was probably one of the scariest things I've been through - and we weren't even hurt! I'm going to try and replay the day for you all so those of you who I really haven't had a chance to talk to can hear what happened.

Nicole and I had made plans earlier in the week to get together. Cory just left on deployment to Afghanistan, and her middle son, Justin was having a hard time coping. She decided to let him have a sleepover and invite 3 of his bestest friends. This sleepover was supposed to happen Friday night. But because all 3 of his friends and Justin were on the same soccer team that had a championship game early in the morning on Saturday, Nicole felt it might be better to have them come over after the game and stay the night Saturday night. That way, they wouldn't be exhausted for their big game because they stayed up and partied all Friday night long.

The plan was for me and the kids to head on over that way Saturday to help keep Nicole from going mad with all those kids in the house and of course to have some sister bonding time playing 'Just Dance' and watching girlie movies. I was even going to be spending the night. Jon was scheduled to work all weekend long so it was a perfect idea.

Saturday rolls around, Nicole comes home from the game and texts me around 1:30. I let her know I'll probably be over there around 3. Gotta get the kids together, pick up some supplies (like ice cream toppings - yum!) and we'd be over. Around 2pm, my husband texts me and lets me know that there's a possibility that he'll be let out of work early since it's so slow. Tells me to wait for him. I let Nicole know we'll be there a little later.

We finally get there around 3:30-4 o'clock. The skies have been dark and cloudy all day. The time frame that the storm was supposedly going to hit kept being pushed back but we knew we were in for a good thunderstorm. But it had been extremely windy all day long. Huge gusts that would almost feel as if you were nothing more than a mere leaf being tossed in the breeze.

Jon had agreed to stay with ALL the kids (at this point I should mention my daughter was staying the night at a friends house on my side of base), so Nicole and I could make a run to town to get the pizzas. During this time my Mom had called me to check on us since apparently the Weather Channel had been posting about the horrible storm system making its way through North Carolina. My brother had even posted earlier on FB asking everyone to keep us in their thoughts as we dealt with such a monster of a storm. The thing was, is that we really weren't getting anything except the wind. Nicole and I joked quite a bit about how they always hype up the storms around here and that they're always nothing.

After we arrive back home, and eat our dinner, Cameron (nephew #1), Jason and Jordon (Nicole's nephew - Cory's brother's son) asked if we could play the zombie game - Last Night on Earth. Cameron LOVES this game and is ALWAYS asking to play it, so Jon and I made sure to bring it with us this time because we usually forget. Poor kid, lol!

We start playing and a little bit into it, Justin and his friends came down from upstairs asking for ice cream. We tell them that they can have some in a little bit once we finish the game. This was around 7:30. At this point, it's raining heavy out and there are storm warnings posted. I check my phone and there are various tornado warnings posted but none for our area.

7:50 rolls around (I remember this specifically because I glanced at the stove clock) and the boys come barreling down from upstairs yet again asking for ice cream. Again we ask them to give us about 10 more minutes to finish the game. I check my weather app on my phone again and now it is saying there is a tornado warning for Onslow county (which is our county) but it's to the west and north of us.

It's right around this point that things got weird. We continued to try and finish up our game, and since there was that tornado warning posted, decided to open up the door in the kitchen leading to the screened in back porch. It had been pouring down rain for a while and we just wanted to kinda keep an ear out for anything.
It just so happened that shortly after the kids headed back upstairs, the rain had suddenly stopped. It had gotten eerily quiet. Each of us paused, and one of us made a comment about how the rain just....stopped. Then as soon as we said that, the wind picked up. At this point we're all still sitting in our seats but staring at each other like, "What the heck?" It was at this time there was a very loud explosion. None of us are sure as to what it was. At the time, we thought it was a transformer blowing. I know that I shot out of my seat, and I'm assuming Nicole and the kids at the table did as well. It was a seriously loud noise and again we all just stared dumbfounded at each other. In that split second of jumping to our feet and saying, 'What was THAT?!" a different noise of another sound started. This time it was the very distinct sound of a train, headed straight for us.

Nicole and I had been in a tornado before. Back in 2001, during the summer, a tornado came through our parents back yard. The train sound of a tornado is one that you'll never forget once you hear it.

How we reacted at that point has become kinda a blur. What I do know is that Nicole and I yelled 'Get the kids!' and everyone raced for her hurricane room that was on the other side of the kitchen. Later, we remark to each other how thankful we are that we were able to get the kids in there in only a few split seconds. Justin and his friends had picked  the perfect time to come back down the stairs to ask for ice cream. They were halfway down when Nicole grabbed them.

We ended up stuffing 9 kids, 3 adults and one dog into an 8x4 closet of a hurricane room packed full of storage items. Jon was the last one in, since he grabbed Nicole's dog Belle. As soon as he shut the door, everything went black. Power had gone out. We used our iPhones for light and within a few seconds, Belle started whining like crazy and the pressure started to drop which made all our ears start popping. Jon said something about the pressure dropping and I just remember him and I looking at each other, knowing what that meant.

I really can't tell you how long we stayed in that closet before Jon decided to open the door. It really couldn't of been more than a couple of minutes, if that. He stepped out of the room to see what he could. At this time, we were still all cuddled in the closet, scared. The kids were really brave, considering. One of Justin's friends was whimpering, and Jason and Jack said that they couldn't stop their little legs from shaking.
Shortly after Jon leaves the room, Nicole decides to go investigate as well. The rain had started up again full force and Jon and Nicole were in the process of opening windows. Nicole made her way back over to the screened in porch and that's when she told Jon she thought she saw something out her back yard. Jon took a look and said he did too. It was at the point they heard a woman screaming. Jon took off running to help.

I made my way out of the closet and told the kids to stay there so I could help Nicole find some flashlights or candles. One or two of the kids had their DS with them and I told them to keep it on for the light.

I found Nicole by the back porch and finally got a look at what her and Jon did just a few moments ago. A tornado had demolished two of the houses directly behind us and Jon was out there somewhere trying to help. There was still screaming.

Nicole and I both picked up our phones and dialed 911.

I just remember saying, "Oh my God, that's a house" with Nicole saying that Jon ran to help. We both just stood there staring in shock. It was very surreal seeing something like that. We tried to process the fact that we were indeed looking at a homes that were no longer there. I believe it was at that point Nicole and I just grabbed on to each other and told each other how thankful we were and that THAT could of been us.

Nicole and I then frantically searched the house looking for ANYTHING we could use as lights. This woman did not own one single flashlight! And since she's a Scentsy consultant, she doesn't have candles either!!!  I found two more DS's and took them to the kids and told them we needed them to stay there until we could find more lights. They seemed content to sit in there and play video games. Thank God for DS's! We ended up finding some birthday candles but couldn't light them because we didn't have any matches. Nicole had a brilliant idea and remembered Cory had a ton of MRE's out in the garage and they all had matches in them. So we stumbled out to the garage in the dark and thumbed our way through boxes until we could find one. I then used my big brain and stuck the candles in the left over pizza to light them. Hey, whatever works!

I have to tell you, this wasn't done with any type of inward calm. I think Nicole and I held it together pretty good for the kids on the outside, but we were both just shaking uncontrollably. We corralled the kids to the living room where we told them to just sit and play their DS's while we start making phone calls. Nicole was getting a hold of the parents of the boys who were staying the night. I went out back to call Mom and Dad.  I then called Cassie to make sure she was ok as well. She was on the main side of base (the side I live on) staying the night at a friends. I probably scared the crap out her and told her to take cover now! That we were just hit with a tornado. At some point I also called my friend Kristy (and my neighbor) to see if we still had power and if I still had a house. Which, we did.

Things were pretty blurry from here on out. All these event took place within the span of 30 minutes, if that. The boys coming downstairs at 7:50pm to ask for ice cream, the tornado hitting, us scrambling to find a light, to me calling my family at 8:25pm.

Jon finally showed back up at home around 9pm, muddy, soaking wet, shaking. I asked if he was ok and he said he was. That he had to dig out a baby from the rubble of the house. At this point he said he had to make a phone call and called his boss Clint to give him a heads up on what just happened. Overhearing his phone call, Jon told Clint about the tornado and that it took out the house behind us. He ran to help and found the Mother screaming that her baby was somewhere in the pile of rubble on the ground. How he, along with a fellow Marine found the baby and that he stayed with the baby until they could hand him over to the Ambulance by the front gate.

I'll have more on Jon's story later on.


By now, the rain has stopped and people are everywhere! There's no traffic allowed on base. Nicole had left with the kids that were staying the night to try and get them to their parents who all live off base. It was insane! Apparently, the tornado had picked up and dropped back down by one of the gates to get onto base. Tore through fencing, flipped cars over, took out a Cleaners. It was unreal. There was no easy way off and nobody was getting on.

After about an hour or so, Nicole was finally able to make it back to her house where we decided it'd be best to pack up the kids and head to my house. Which had lost power earlier in the evening when the storm hit our area. It was devastating trying to drive off base and seeing all the destruction that this storm caused. From what we could tell in the pitch dark, there were windows blown out and just debris everywhere! But what even blew us away even more was the fact that people, with little kids and babies seemed to be out walking around. It was closing in on midnight, WHY were they out?! Do they not have common sense that to be out walking around after a natural catastrophe is NOT a good idea?!

We finally make it to my house (after stopping by and grabbing Cassie. There was no way I was not having my whole family with me!) and like a sign from God, our power came on right when Jon pulled up! We get the kids settled in and then Jon, Cassie, Nicole and I all snuggle into our bed. We are still all just in shock and talk about what happened. Nicole and I get to laughing (which helps, of course) about the fact that she left me in a closet full of kids AGAIN! The last tornado, she left me in the basement of my parents home with Cassie, Cameron, a little girl she was babysitting (and little baby pod Jason who I was only around 4-5 mo preggers with) while she went to check things out with Dad. Some point during the evening, I had yelled at her, "You ALWAYS leave me with the kids!"  It may not sound funny to you all reading this but for some reason, it had her and I just laughing to the point of tears.

Eventually we fall asleep.....

The next day, we were all up bright and early. We left Cassie here with the kids to watch while we headed back over to Nicoles house to survey the damage and clean up in the bright of day. Seeing it in the light, just blew our minds and drove home the fact of  how utterly LUCKY we were to be alive. Seeing the path and realizing that if this tornado had made one slight turn, it would of been Nicole's house knocked to the ground with OUR babies hurt. To this day, I still shake and get emotional over it. I want to say that we were blessed and someone was looking out for us, but then I feel guilty. Does that mean someone wasn't looking out for that Mom and baby? This world just doesn't make sense sometimes.....

This is the cleaners that was right outside the TT1 gate. 

The house that was demolished...


 Again, the two houses that were hit. Notice the crib in the front...

You can kinda see the crib here. But this is basically where Jon found him.

The total destruction....



A tree behind the house that basically broke in half....



This was the back of the a house that was facing the the two houses that got hit. There used to be a trampoline in the back yard. Nicole and I had commented throughout the day that because of the winds, the trampoline kept inching closer to Nicole's house (which is to the left of this picture, but not in the actual picture here). Kinda eerie that that trampoline is now nowhere to be seen....


A view of Nicole's house from the destroyed house...


The path that it took...

 Another view of Nicole's house a little farther back from the destroyed house....Nicole's house is the one almost directly center of this picture (fyi).

A closer up of the tree...

Nicole's house is to the right of this picture, in the background...

This is the front of what used to be those homes...

You can kinda see the path it took. Notice the roofs ripped off....

The 'Hurricane Room'....Can you believe we fit 12 people and a dog in there? Unreal!

Finally, my makeshift candle holder. Gotta used what you're dealt with, right?
Keep in mind, these pictures are only a small section of what happened to the base. There are houses scattered throughout TT that we severely damages, although no other ones where knocked to the ground.

Eventually Nicole's power was restored later that evening. But the base was still a big mess. There was a Town Meeting where all the big wigs talked about what they were prepared to do to help and all that. Which seemed to help. There was more than 50 families(on base) who's homes had been deemed unlivable because of this storm. Fortunately, the Mom and baby who were in the house that was demolished were the only ones seriously injured. (Who btw, are doing good!)

Here's the Story of Mom/Baby in case anyone is interested in reading it.

The aftermath of the storm for us personally was stressful. The news people of course were all over it and people started coming forward claiming that they were the ones who rescued this baby. Things were being printed in the paper that just weren't true. Jon and I discussed this and decided it was time for him to step forward, and tell his side of the story. Below is what you'll see Jon had emailed to one of the reporters that first broke the story here in town.

Ms. Ulbrich,
As there is an over abundance of rumors about what happened to the
injured toddler, I feel the need to clarify a few points.  To start
off, my family and I were visiting my sister-in-law at her residence
which was unscathed by the tornado but literally next door to the home
of the mother and toddler.  We had the back door open while we were
playing board games and entertaining nine-children for a sleep-over,
listening to the rain and wind.  We heard what sounded like a
transformer exploding (which was more likely a tree being broken in
half as we review the damage this morning) and the wind really picked
up with a cessation of the rain.  At this point my wife and
sister-in-law hurried all the kids into the hurricane room and shut
the door.  A few seconds later the pressure dropped (everyone's ears
popped, and the storm warning on my watch went off).  Then as quickly
as it came it was over.  We walked on the back porch and tried to view
through the rain what had happened, when my sister-in-law said that it
looked like a house was down.  At that point we could hear the screams
of the mother and a few of the other rescuers.  I said I'm going to
help and was out the back screen door running to the debris which is
no more than 60 feet from the back of the house.  When I arrived,
there were several guys helping her look as she frantically told me
here two year old son was on the second floor which was strewn about
the ground in a twisted mess of wood, roofing material, and their own
personal items.  One of the guys said he wanted to look more but had
to go as he sustained several deep lacerations from glass that had
been blown in either from his home, or on the ground as he tried to
look.

I began to look for child toys and clothing to try to find where he
might be, but the rain was still unrelenting.  After a few seconds or
minutes, as I'm not clear on the time as the adrenaline had taken
over, I found a mattress lying on the ground covered by dry wall
pieces.  I moved the dry wall and mattress, finding what I first
though was a stuffed animal or doll.  It was her little boy, trapped
in the head board of his crib, with his limp body partially through
the head board.  I removed him from the rubble as carefully as I
could, because his head was trapped.  When I finally freed him I found
him unresponsive, breathing irregularly and shallowly.  I shouted that
I found him and one of the guys helping said come with me we'll take
him to his home (I believe the mother was taken here as well, but I'm
not clear on how or when she got there).  We ran through the rain and
around the backs of several homes that were also damaged by the
tornado as the high winds continued to blow us around.

Coming into the home, the front window was clearly blown inward with
glass everywhere. I laid the child on the floor where I quickly
exposed him, removing his pajamas, to examine for any obvious signs of
injury.  The mother was there asking if he was alive, and I told her
he was, and I was a Critical Care Nurse, and I would take care of him.
 There was no signs of external bleeding, but he did have bloody
frothy sputum coming from his mouth.  His airway was maintained, and
the child stimulated to get him to cry to help clear his airway.  I
asked for a towel to try to minimize his heat loss and to cover him
back up.  I questioned the family whose house we were in if 911 had
been called, they stated they had, and within a few minutes a Camp
Lejeune PMO cruiser arrived where I carried the toddler into the back
seat, the mother accompanying me, stating that she was bleeding from
both legs, and had several teeth knocked out.  The rain and wind was
still very heavy at this stage and there were several trees down on
road.  The police officers called for EMS to meet us at the Western
Blvd entrance.  We sped away, despite the weather and road conditions
to the gate where at the four way intersection just before exiting TT
a Camp Lejeune Fire Department Paramedic met us with his truck.  I
identified my self as a Critical Care Nurse and the toddlers current
condition.  We placed oxygen on the child and immobilized his neck and
spine.  He had to be suctioned several times due to excess secretions
and blood.  The mother stated that she was bleeding from her right
foot.  With the paramedic getting his gear out and me holding her son
all I could do was direct her to take her son's pajamas which she was
holding in her hand, and wrap it around her foot and tie it as tightly
as she could and hold her hand over injury and apply direct pressure.
Two more EMS vehicles arrived, this time ambulances.  The child's
airway needed frequent suctioning and he would have periods where he
would stop breathing.  The paramedic and I continued to stimulate him
and maintain his airway.  With the extra medical personnel we were
able to move the child into the back of one of the vehicles where the
on scene EMS personnel took over, and I relinquished care.  In the
mean time I comforted the mother, bandaged her left foot which had
several deep lacerations from all of the glass and debris from her
home, and got her into the front seat.  I told her that they would
take care of her and her son, I touched her hand and I left I asked
for a ride back with a PMO Sergeant who happened to live next to the
intersection where the exchange took place because my cell phone had
gotten wet, and I was not able to call my family to let them know I
was safe.  I returned to my sister-in-laws house at 2100 exactly
because I called my boss to let him know what had happened.

Ms. Ulbrich, if you have any questions about what I've written, or
need more details, I'd be happy to help, I would like the mother to
know that I did everything I could to help her and her child, and as I
write this I am physically shaking, because we had 9 children (my
sons, my nephews, and several of their friends) in a house just a few
feet from what is left of hers.

Thank You,
LTJG Jonathan D. Hamrick, NC, USN
Registered Nurse


Thankfully, as I write up this blog, things have been cleared up (for the most part). Jon and the other Marines that were with him, truly saved this family. He's always been my Hero, and am proud to say that he is a Hero to others as well.

There was a great article written in the Globe. The reporter actually came and interviewed Jon at work and besides them stating it was me that said there was a down house (it was actually Nicole), they got it pretty spot on.

It was and still is a pretty huge thing to have gone through. It was determined it was an F3 tornado that touched down. Even though our family wasn't directly hit, we were right in the thick of it all (continued on by Jon's involvement and the cluster of misinformation that was). It's nice to now finally get back to some sort of normalcy. The aftermath of cleanup is still a huge undertaking. They've somewhat straightened up the mess of the downed houses behind Nicole's but that whole cul de sac, along with many other homes are boarded up and unlivable. Even one of the schools was hit. Housing is trying to get them all into new homes. It'll be a long time before things will be back to normal over there on that side of the base.

I just thank my lucky stars that our families are safe, that Jon was there (he was supposed to work) and that we were there with my sister, who would of had to face that alone with all those kids.

But if I never have to go through that again it'll be too soon.


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2 comments:

  1. Wow. My legs were actually shaking as I read this. I cant imagine going thru this and I'm so sorry that you had to. But then again, thank goodness you were there so Jon could save that babies life. He is a true hero and I'm so proud of him!

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  2. OMG! Reading this minute by minute playback is scary enough, I CAN'T imagine what it was like to live it for real as you all did! I still can't believe that happened and living down here makes it even more surreal to me. Thank God you're all ok and ditto what Jill said....Thank God Jon was there to save that baby, what a hero!!!!!

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