The wind started to blow as rain beat on rooftops like a big bad wolf. Electricity cut out and then the howl of what sounded like a train could be heard through the city. What felt like an hour was only minutes, buildings shook and debris started to fly. Homes began to rock back and forth swaying, crackling and finally snapping and flying away.
This was the story I was told over and over as I walked throughout what was left of the City of Van, the place I graduated high school and made some of my favorite memories. An EF3 tornado had touched down on Mother’s Day and took one-third of the small oil town off I-20.
During the storm I was working at CBS 19 doing cut-ins to alert people that they need to take shelter. As I watched the storm pass on the radar our chief meteorologist, John Adams, said ‘we need to get on-air now.’ While on-air he said that there was rotation and that Van needed to take cover. A warning most would never hear. We broadcasted our newscast then remained on air until 1:08 a.m. updating the current conditions outside. As I left work I decided to go and get as many cases of water I could afford and head to Van.
Driving into town the area seemed fine, but getting further into town that story would change. The red and blue lights shown bright as officers directed traffic away from the hardest hit places, yellow lights from electric workers trying to clear downed power lines did the same. The lights from their vehicles bounced off the rain and puddles making the town glow eerily. I’ve never been to a war zone, but this will be the closest I will come to one.
As I approached the First Baptist Church, where The Red Cross had set up a triage for the displaced, I unloaded the cases of water and watched people going in and out trying to grab what belongings they could find to take inside with them. Cots were set up in rows across the inside of the worship area and people were laying their belongings under and on top of the cots. The people were all helping one another to get as comfortable as possible, some were talking and others praying. I never saw a single tear drop, just plans on cleaning up and rebuilding.
The rain had eased and the storms were passing. I used this as an opportunity to tour the damage. The first thing I noticed was the elementary school and administrative buildings were in shambles. Memories of school and plays, award ceremonies and speeches all took place in these historic buildings, now all destroyed by Mother Nature.
Driving into the neighborhoods the smell of gas, water and sewage over powered the senses making breathing and even seeing a little difficult. Driving around on Pennsylvania Rd. and the surrounding streets trees were down and splintered like toothpicks and animals were wondering the streets looking for anything that looks like home to them. Power lines crossed roads and yards as if snakes had been let loose upon the town. I had difficulty navigating the roads with my car but I made it nonetheless.
I drove around to places I had been in high school and enjoyed with friends, all ruble and unrecognizable. My mind was in a frenzy trying to comprehend what had happened here. Only on TV had I witnessed things like this happening to other towns and cities. Now we became the place on TV everyone was saying how tragic to. Van is a community of strong-minded people who even in their darkest hour manage to find the light.
I’m not from Van originally. I’ve lived in the area for ten years and have visited the area for twenty years. I graduated high school in Van and met some of my best friends in Van. Ask anyone I went to school with and they’ll tell you the same thing they tell me, “you’re not from Ohio you’re from Van.” We are Van and we are strong.
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3 COMMENTS

  1. I was not all aware that Van went through such an uproot and I am so pleased to learn that there are people willing to come together and be of assistance to the town. Van, you most definitely are strong.

  2. very informative article. Very descriptive as well. I have not been through Van since the devastation, but from the quality of your details in this article, I can only imagine the horrific, unfortuante experience that left Van and their residence crushed.

  3. That night my brother in law got called to Van as a firefighter, it was so scary. The pictures that were coming across tv and internet were scary enough that I can’t even imagine what it was like to actually be there that night. My heart breaks for this small town that I grew up close to and I pray that everyone will be able to pick up the pieces and rebuild.

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