Earlier this week, meteorologists started predicting a Particularly Dangerous Situation for central Arkansas on Sunday. Maps were generated with a little pink blob right over the piece of the world I call home. We watched erie skies and radar maps, and we did what we do this time every year: thought about where we’d “hunker” if the sirens went off, remembered storms we’ve seen in the past, and waited to see if it was all hype or the real deal. I had a feeling it would be when those crazy people who call themselves storm chasers started rolling into town in homemade tanks.
Unfortunately, the predictions were accurate and a tornado I’ve seen described as half a mile wide ripped through communities not so far from mine. My husband headed in to the ER to treat kids injured in the storms. Mayflower, the same community affected by the Exxon pipeline spill, and Vilonia, devastated by a tornado just 2 years ago, were the hardest hit. As morning dawned today, neighboring communities started to assess their damage, and the news broadcast that there are 16 dead and counting.
I hate tornadoes. They terrify me. They are violent and unpredictable and utterly devastating. They seem utterly senseless, good for nothing other than making us searingly aware of how powerless we are, how everything we love could be gone in a flash. I don’t think God sends tornadoes. But I think God is in how we respond to them. When senseless things happen, I think of what Mr. Rogers said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Today, the helping begins, and people affected will need it for a long while to come. If you’re interested in helping, the Red Cross and the Arkansas Rice Depot would both be great places to give money that will help the people literally picking up the pieces today. Giving blood is another way to help. If you can collect things like blankets, food, chainsaws, tarps, clothes, and toys, there’s a great list of places to give items here.
If you live in an area that frequently experiences tornados, like I do, I also urge you to identify a safe place to go when sirens go off. A basement is best, but an interior, ground-floor room without windows is also a good bet. You want as many walls between you and the tornado outside as possible. Once you have that place identified, assemble a 72 hour survival kit and keep it there. FEMA and the Red Cross are great resources for getting these things together. Most importantly, when weather is predicted, heed warnings, go to your safe space, and do what you can.
My heart is broken for my fellow Arkansans this morning. Please help if you can.