April 30, 2008

Tornado Streams of Consciousness

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It’s amazing how what you’ve planned to write can change in a few hours.

For those of you who haven’t heard, at least three tornados have hit my fair state of Virginia, specifically, the area where I live. No one had expected these tornadoes to arrive. Like the rest of the Virginians, I was expecting only a little afternoon rain as I left for work at the Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk. And even when it grew dark and began to rain harder, it didn’t seem like anything too out of the ordinary.

Then at three in the afternoon, I got a call from my parents about a tornado watch in effect for several areas of Virginia, including ours. Crazy, I thought, but the online weather sites confirmed it. So instead of leaving work around five, I had to stay until the watch was called off for our area, at around 8 p.m.

When I returned late at night to my hometown of Yorktown, we only knew that we hadn’t been hit, but that a few of the neighboring areas had. The next morning, we finally got details via the morning paper and CNN. It’s odd to think that when a tragedy occurs in your own area, you sometimes have to learn about it through the news and the Internet just like everyone else.[img_assist|nid=30334|title=The aftermath of the recent tornado that swept through Virginia. (Joe Fudge, Daily Press / April 24, 2008)|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]

We found out that over 200 people were injured, but thankfully no one was killed. (One fatality was reported earlier, but it came to light that it had to do with domestic violence and not the storm.) Suffolk, an area only half an hour away from Norfolk, was hit particularly hard due to multiple touchdowns of the storm. Several homes and businesses were destroyed, and the Sentara Obici Hospital was also hit (although thankfully it is still functional). But then there were the photos of what the tornados had done. Homes and streets looked like they had been blitzed. Signs and pieces of metal were twisted together like pieces of abstract art. I saw pictures and pictures of the fierce tornadoes over areas I’ve driven though.

As I am writing about the tornados, it’s still strange to think that the tornadoes hit here. Not just because Midwestern areas are more prone to them, but also because everything seems so blase in the unaffected areas. Here at ODU, some of the students I work with saw one of the tornados, while some weren’t even aware of any until other people brought it up in conversation.

I wonder whether the American people will pay attention to us. Stories about Miley Cyrus’s recent photo blunder, the Texas polygamist sect and the Austrian captive sex case all overshadow our disaster on CNN’s website. As I read more, I only now realize that in March and April, several other tornados also struck Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Washington D.C. Will our tragedy fail to matter in the public perception as well?

In the midst of all the disaster, though, there is that feeling of gratefulness that situations weren’t much worse. And there’s also the reminder that life isn’t completely in your control, and that you can lose everything in an instant. It makes you that much more thankful for what you have. Now let’s hope that we’ll find ways to help others piece back together what they once had.