Jul/Aug 2016The DNR in Action: In the Path of the Stormby Sergeant Ken Cope

It really didn't hit me until the very end that we had just lived through a tornado.

Last spring [2015] I was scheduled to teach a boating safety class at Congaree Bluff Heritage Preserve, but only a couple kids signed up, and I decided to cancel the class. A short time later, a parent called to see if she could get her child enrolled. After I explained the class had been canceled, she asked if I would consider rescheduling it at her home if she could get at least seven or eight participants. I agreed to come teach the class in a small building for family outings at a home in Calhoun County on the following Sunday after church. Although the forecast included storms, I expected it to be uneventful.

So, on that particular Sunday, I went over to their home and set up my computer and projector for the class as the kids were arriving. Although the wind was blowing some, I went ahead with the class. As I finished up I realized I was one test short, but I remembered that I had more in my truck. Just as I returned with the paper, the bottom fell out and rain poured for several minutes. It was very loud inside, as the little building had a metal roof. Just as the kids finished up the test, the wind started blowing harder. It got louder outside and the roof started to shake, even the furniture inside was shaking, and I knew this was not good. As quickly as I could, I got the four smaller kids to huddle in a corner and I crouched over them. The three bigger kids huddled in another corner. They were great. Nobody panicked. We just all got down; then I could hear the roof ripping over my head as the wind took the metal sections right off the building.

It was over pretty quick, but the table turned over, and my computer and projector ended up across the room on the floor. One of the kids was a little upset at first, but they all calmed down as soon as it was over. I checked to be certain all the kids were safe. As I picked up the table and my equipment, I told the kids to go ahead and call their parents to let them know everyone was alright. Pretty soon parents started to arrive. One parent told me a mobile home just down the street appeared to have exploded off its foundation.

Since there were other parents on the scene and all the kids were safe, I drove down the street to investigate. There were two men standing on the foundation where the mobile home had been. They both appeared to be OK, so I asked if anyone else had been inside. They informed me an older couple was still inside. I walked over to the pile of rubble and discovered a woman under some paneling and insulation. Her face had several cuts, and she was in pain. Just then, I also saw what appeared to be a foot sticking out from under a small freezer. When I moved the freezer, I found a man under it. He was in pretty bad shape and was complaining of pain in his back. I got them moved to safety just as the fire trucks arrived to get them the help they needed. Both of those folks ended up in the hospital.

It really didn't hit me until the very end that we had just lived through a tornado. I think it was a weak one, but all of them are dangerous. I was so proud of those kids who reacted quickly and helped me keep everyone safe. And, they all passed their boating safety test.


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