Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Some Tragedies Cannot Be Avoided

A piece of my heart is in Oklahoma this morning. Those I know with family in the area finally received word that everyone was safe, even though they appear to have lost everything.

Over twenty children are still missing, presumed dead, drowned in the water beneath the rubble of the school. Their parents, waiting, hoping, praying for a miracle.

Almost as soon as the tornado hit, people started asking questions. Why the school didn't have a basement, why there wasn't a safe room, why they didn't bus the kids out, why they didn't evacuate.

As though any of those things would have guaranteed their safety.

Most of the kids here drowned. Going lower under ground would not have helped them. Basements are not built in the area because the soil cannot support them. Talking about something that is impossible as though it is does no one any favors.

The sustained winds were over 200mph. A safe room cannot withstand that.

Buses aren't usually stored on school property,and even if they were, who's to say that they'd drive away from danger instead of towards more of it, now outside of a sturdy building and in a metal box that could easily be picked up and thrown by the winds?

They had 16 minutes warning.

On foot, with that many children, they would have been lucky to get half a mile away. The tornado was wider than that. The debris field was even bigger. Being outside would have endangered them more because of flying projectiles.

Some of those teachers used their own bodies as shields to protect the children.

There is quite literally nothing that would have guaranteed safety of everyone in Moore yesterday. These storms are too big, the winds are too fast.

I question why so many people rush to lay blame in situations like this one. Even when there is a clear place to blame, as with school shootings, the quest for blame pushes on.

People want so desperately to have someone to blame because doing so somehow insulates them. If this is someone else's fault, they can do something to stop it. To prevent it. To avoid death, fear and loss.

It's a fallacy.

Horrible, terrible things can happen to anyone. At any time. At the hands of another person, at the hands of mother nature.

It can happen to you. It can happen to me.

There is no way to keep everyone safe all the time.

I've lived through enough natural disasters myself to know that.

Five years ago, tomorrow, I spent time crammed like sardines in a tiny park bathroom with over fifty preschoolers, their parents and siblings while funnel clouds reached down from the sky above us. I knew in that moment that whether we lived or died was out of our hands.

I've never been so scared in my life, more for my children than myself.

I lived less than five miles from the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake when it hit in 1994. The sound was like something I can't even describe. The support beams in our house twisted and warped. The fault line ran down from the hills, through the neighborhood, and directly under our house. We were without utilities for days. My life was possibly saved only because I had just taken heavy items off the shelf on the wall above my bed the weekend before. Had I left them there, I may not be here today.

We were evacuated during the Cedar Fire storm in San Diego in 2003. We thought we ran towards safety, we actually were headed toward more danger and just didn't know it. Smoke, like storms, obscure your view and you can't tell where is safe and where isn't. We'd be driving through smoke and suddenly come up on a fire line with almost no warning.

Living through these experiences has taught me a few things.

- Prepare for what you can.
- Keep emergency supplies on hand, water, shelf stable food, blankets and shoes especially.
- Have at least one radio that doesn't require electricity (we have a hand crank radio and flashlight).
- Practice safety drills.
- Have a family emergency plan.
- Have a clear idea what you would take if evacuated. You should be able to grab it and get out in minutes.

Even then, there is no way to guarantee safety.

I can tell you that when you experience these things, adrenaline kicks in. You will be capable of doing things you never imagined possible. You will be calmer than you think.

Think rationally and prepare, but appreciate the power of nature.  We can't always outrun her.


  1. The force of Mother Nature is incredible. My heart breaks for all those affected.It's a very sad time..I pray for a miracle.

  2. My boys were in a lock down because of a water bottle explosive prank yesterday. I had the same conversation with them.

    We were in Woodland Hills in 1994. It sounded like a jet engine to me-when I was little I lived at the end of the air force base's landing strip. Heard it long before we felt it.

    What I've learned is: bad things happen. What matters is how I respond.

  3. This is REALLY GOOD--I am shocked at how many natural disasters you have been through! I live in the South Florida--hotbed for hurricanes. I have been through many of them, but nothing worse than Hurricane Andrew 20 years ago. Our town came out of it with just some scrapes and bruises, but only one hour from our home in Miami, it looked like a bomb went off in a war zone. After weeks of working with the clean-up crews down there, I learned a lot of things during that time---you cannot control nature or blame others for what happened; it just proves there are forces at work so much stronger than us..and my faith in humanity was restored when I saw first- hand the kindness of strangers in the aftermath. My heart goes out to the people of Oklahoma....keeping them in my prayers.


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