‘This too shall pass’; Survivors reflect on past three days

William Evans

“My house is broken,” 3-year-old Wyatt Miller told his grandmother Wednesday night after the tornado passed through.

“I just cried when he told me,” Wilma Miller, 76, said.

Three days after the tornado, Wyatt is excited to accompany his father when he hauls salvaged items from the house in his truck, and Wyatt’s mother says it’s time to move forward.

“Reality has set in,” Rachelle Miller, 44, said. “Right after it happened, we were just in shock.”

The main items have been moved out, she said, and luckily, they were even able to save their photos.

“We lost a lot,” Rachelle Miller said.  “But we were lucky to walk out without a scratch.”

They have temporary housing, she said, and after today, they will not be returning to the home they’ve lost.

“Today, we have to finish,” she said.

Search and rescue priorities have shifted from rescuing victims trapped under the rubble to recovery of those who have died as a result of the tornado, said firefighters on the scene at Cedar Crest.

Cleaning the road of debris and identifying hazards such as power outages and gas leaks are among the main concerns for emergency crews tasked with spearheading the relief effort and restoration of the city.

The tornado has turned rows of houses into a mangled briar patch of twisted trees, splintered wood, shattered glass and upturned vehicles, some of which are lying on top of houses themselves.

The affected areas have improved to this condition after three days of work by emergency crews who have spray-painted the damaged houses with numbers to indicate the number of deaths per household.

Although many houses in Cedar Crest bore a zero to indicate no deaths, residents have spray-painted mementos of their own to show their hope or desperation.

A Bible quote from the Book of Judges graced the front of a house in Cedar Crest to read, “The Earth shook and the skies poured down.” Next to that quote, the wall proclaimed, “This too shall pass.”

Emergency and volunteer groups are focusing on assisting the survivors of the storm as cadaver dogs sniff through the rubble 30 minutes at a time to search for bodies.

Meanwhile, on the street parallel to the Millers’, Blair Poe, a senor majoring in management and information systems, received MREs — meals ready to eat — from a postman.

Though Poe said he has friends and family who are feeding him, he delighted in taking the MREs to boost his food supply.

Poe said after receiving warnings from weather channels about the tornado as early as Tuesday night, he took it seriously and prepared for the worst, making sure to take care of his dog, Dylan.

“It built an intensity, I was just waiting to get sucked out,” he said, speaking of when the tornado hit his house. “I was in the bathtub facedown holding onto my dog. He tried to jump out, but I held onto him … He survived with me.”

Poe counts himself lucky; he still has a front door and most of his roof.

“It’s an indescribable feeling,” he said. “My house was shaking so hard I didn’t hear a tree fall through my bedroom.

“It’s just a building, building roar. And all you hear are trees snapping, glass shattering. There was insulation blowing up under the bathroom door — I had it chained shut. I’m just extremely fortunate. I had a tree fall five feet away from me … My house is still standing. It blows my mind.”

After the tornado passed, Poe said he emerged from his shelter to find his neighborhood, where he’s lived for eight years, destroyed.

“The most surreal feeling was stepping out of the front door,” he said.

However, he only had to save a puppy crawling out of a shattered window.

“It’s just strange that the people who needed help got themselves out on their own,” Poe said.

Back on the Millers’ street, though, Morgan Sigler, Scott Atterton and Blake Peek weren’t so fortunate.

“When we went over there, I saw a group of people gathering, so I knew it was probably something bad that I didn’t need to see,” he said. “One of the cancer doctors (David Hinton) had come out of [his son Dennis’] house and was telling people [a man] was under a tree, and I knew I couldn’t do anything for someone like that.

“But that’s when a lot of feelings, emotions hit — the experts are walking around, people who can do something are here … I just had to turn around at that point and just get my stuff and get out, because I just couldn’t deal with seeing anything too gruesome after being through all the trauma of that.”

Since the tornado, Poe said he’s having a hard time sleeping.

“I finally fell asleep on my own, and I had a nightmare,” he said. “It’s like an overwhelming anxiety of being about to be sucked out, because it’s just like the movies.

“My whole world was shaken, it wasn’t just the ground and the house. It was just everything. You just wait for it to peak; you just come to terms with everything in life … It’s only something you can really replicate in your dreams.”