My hometown of Canton, Missouri is nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River next to a well-maintained dam. On its western side are large hills with Culver Stockton College resting atop, overlooking the quiet town. I’ve always loved the layout and it is especially lovely during the autumn season. On the other side of the college, highway 61 runs north and south with two main exits to head down the “college hill” and into town.
Near the southern-most exit is the factory I worked nights at, and a mile or so from the northern-most exit is the nursing home that Robin worked for as a CNA.
We lived down the hill by 7th Street, which means approximately seven blocks from the river, give or take, in a charming house with my mother.
At about 6pm on May 10, 2003, I was sleeping in the basement where it was dark and quiet, since I had worked hard the previously night and got to bed late in the morning. Robin was at work. Upstairs, my mother was looking after my nephew, who was then not-quite six-years-old. One of my older brothers, Joe, was there, as well.
I remember getting up to use the restroom. On the way out, I paused to say, “Is that the tornado alarm?”
“Yeah,” my mother said. “It’s been going off for a little while now.”
“Well, I’ll be asleep in the basement if it hits.
I hadn’t crawled back in bed for long before I heard the electricity popping on and off, then off for good. Mom and little Mason came rushing down with a flashlight. I went to my desk and asked Mom to hold the flashlight on me so I could get my contacts in.
“He wanted to stay up there to watch it.”
I yelled, “Mason! I don’t care what you find under my bed; get under there right now.”
Then the tornado struck. I suppose it sounded like the freight train like folks say, but to me, it was more like the demons traveling around in the first Evil Dead movie. Shortly after we heard it arrive, there was a loud bang that shook the house. Mom pointed the flashlight upward and said, “Is the house coming down around us?”
“I don’t know but I only have one contact in. Put the flashlight back on me, please.”
By the time I could see clearly, it was over. Poor Mason was whimpering under the bed so we told him to come on out. Joe came down to tell us it was safe to come out. He said he could see all the chairs on the front porch slamming up to one side before the maple tree in front twisted and fell on the house.
Oddly enough, my mother’s car was parked at the curb by the tree and didn’t receive a scratch.
You can read the meteorologist details of the event HERE. Ours was Supercell B and here’s a picture (credit is on the picture itself):
This thing had come across the county, which is why there was plenty of warning, skidded over the highway (and in the process, turned two semis and laid them on their sides – drivers unharmed), then hopped over a water tower and slammed on top of our new grocery store, the County Market (people gathered safely inside the freezer):
Then it chewed off the end of the new Comfort Inn. The manager had been struggling with some very difficult guests that refused to stay in the breakfast room while the alarm sounded. She’d looked at the sky and seen “spider” clouds, so she figured it was no test alarm, and wasn’t taking chances, anyway. After the tornado had passed, there was a steering wheel resting in the hallway right where a guest had previously stood, one which she’d had to physically pull back into the room before it hit. That person was crying afterward.
As it moved down the road, it flipped over this RV:
Then it moved on toward the college. A building that only hours earlier had held about a thousand people during a graduation ceremony had its ceiling caved in. No one was present at the time.
A beautiful dome that had been atop one building since Civil War times was crunched up and tossed aside like a beer can. You can see a picture of the topless building HERE.
Then it rolled down the hill, twisting everything as it went, and that’s where it went a block past our house.
First, here are pictures of our house, but we were very fortunate. We ended up needing the roof replaced but at least we had a roof over us when it was over, and we were all alive and well. The nursing home Robin worked at was unscathed. She’d been busy helping people to the halls and passing out donuts & Cheetoes. That’s where our car was, as well.
So here is where the tree hit our house, starting with the first thing we saw when we stepped out of the front door:
I’d mentioned how my mother’s car didn’t get a scratch. Well, the neighbor’s car didn’t do so well, as you can see above.
Here are a few of what was left of the tree:
An interesting thing, I thought, was how it shoved this stick through our fence:
As I’d said, though, we were fortunate. Just look at the view from our back alley:
As it moved toward the river, through the northern part of town, it tore its way through houses like so:
When trees weren’t uprooted, it would raise them enough to lift the sidewalk:
But then, geez, it hit the trailer park, picking them up and slamming them together like an angry child:
Thank goodness no one was hurt. Everyone had heeded the alarm, for the most part. I heard of one person who had opened his door, only to be lifted out and dropped on the lawn. He hurt his back but that’s all.
After this, the storm crossed the Mississippi River, where one would think it would lose strength, but nope. More tornadoes joined together and it continued to raise hell against Lima, Illinois, etc, as you can see in this video by Scott Weberpal:
Like what you normally see in times like this, the community got together and was there for each other. Since I had slept all day, I was wide awake at night and sitting in the dark house without electricity, so I got the flashlight and went out to see if I could help anyone. I was stopped by guys in a truck who suspected I was a looter. They asked the brilliant question, “Why do you have a flashlight?”
“Um, it’s dark and there’s debris everywhere.” Anyway, they told me to go back home so I did. I get it. If I went out and got hurt, I’d only add to the problem, though I was heading straight to where I heard other people working.
But there were bad guys trolling around. The next day, crews were working hard on all the downed trees. A few guys showed up to get the tree off of our house like so:
Unlike everyone else working for the city or just to help, however, these guys handed us a bill after they were finished, saying, “Don’t worry. Your insurance will re-imburse you.” They were obviously scammers, posing as free city helpers, not saying a word to the folks who have already been through enough, and looking to get in, take some checks, then get out.
Well, I recognized one of the guys as someone now married to a woman that we’d loaned $900 to a few years back to save her house. When she didn’t pay us back, we dealt with it and moved on. For this instance, we had no qualms about bringing it up to say we’re even (it’s about what they were charging) and get them to go away, then warn others about them stalking around.
So that’s my big tornado story. I’ve had other close calls here and there but that’s the main one. I feel for anyone who has had any.