Column: Glenville tornado brings out helping hands

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 5, 2001

It started as an annoyance.

Saturday, May 05, 2001

It started as an annoyance. The TV station broke into its programming to show a slow-talking meteorologist stumbling over the words of a storm warning, which he repeated three or four times. All the while, the show I was watching was continuing out of view. &uot;Can’t this guy hurry up?&uot; Finally, the show continued.

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Five minutes later, he broke in again.

The inconvenience continued later. After the weather had apparently calmed, my family and I were looking for gardening tools at ShopKo when a voice came over the public address system: &uot;There has been a tornado warning. Please go to our storm shelter, located in the shoe department.&uot;

Ever try to wait out a 45-minute tornado warning in the shoe department with a two-year-old struggling to get into everything?

It was depressing. Winter ends and you think you’re free of the weather’s constant influence — then you realize that’s not true when the first spring storm hits.

But this week was no ordinary spring storm. This time, a big black fist came out of the sky and knocked out hundreds of buildings across the county. I’ve seen meteorologists break into programming, and I’ve even spent hours huddled in the basement with the power out, but I’ve never seen a tornado destroy buildings in the area I live.

Suddenly, my inconvenience seemed pretty insignificant.

I’m still amazed that nobody was hurt.

When a tornado with 150-mile-per-hour winds tears across 21 miles of landscape – cutting through a downtown in the process – you expect someone to be injured. People said the tornado seemed to pick buildings where there weren’t any living things. Even dogs and cats were spared, while buildings a few feet away were trashed.

I visited Glenville Friday and saw the damage first-hand. As I drove down 65, the town began to come into view, and nothing appeared out of the ordinary. A few houses poked out of the trees, and the Exol plant appeared on the horizon, pouring out smoke.

The first sign something was happening was a huge truck that barreled past me headed north, brimming with twisted branches and leaves.

As I entered town, it was clear that very few buildings had escaped with no damage. Some were missing pieces of roof, and the wooden frame showed through like a ribcage poking out of somebody’s side. Others were missing windows, or shingles, or doors. And a few were nothing more than a pile of cracked bricks and debris.

I went about my business, hoping to write about volunteers and how they were helping out. I spotted a group of about ten people picking up junk from the curb, and approached them. Volunteers, I figured.

&uot;Hey, you folks from around here?&uot; I asked.

The leader turned and extended her hand. &uot;Sentence to service, at you service,&uot; she said.

I told her I worked for the paper and wanted to write a story about people helping out.

&uot;You going to put on a pair of gloves and help us?&uot; one crew member asked.

I was caught off guard. But there didn’t seem to be any appropriate answer except, &uot;Sure, have you got some gloves?&uot;

So, I spent a couple hours picking up twisted aluminum, shattered glass and fractured branches, moving across town with the crew. What better way to write about volunteers than to be one?

I had gone full circle, from being annoyed by the storm, to being concerned, to actually doing something about it.

Hundreds of people have done something about it. From the moment the storm hit, people from all around headed to Glenville to help. They brought meals, equipment, willing hands and open hearts. They’re still there now, and they’ll be there until the work is done.

Maybe that’s why, despite the damage, many of the people I saw in Glenville were smiling.