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Disaster advice

By: William Thomas, For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to

After a vicious tornado killed six people in Harrisburg, Illinois recently, the editors of The Daily Eastern News decided it was an opportune time to run a feature instructing readers how to react to a tornado warning.  If nothing else, newspaper editors generally possess a keen eye for the obvious.


“Tornadoes strike quickly and with deadly force,” began the editorial.


No surprise there, particularly among the fine people of Goderich, Ontario who witnessed their beautiful lakeside burgh, once dubbed “The Prettiest Town In Canada” reduced to a 500-metre swath of twisted rubble in a matter of seconds.


The news article went on to dispense useful advice on how to prepare and hopefully survive an oncoming tornado.


And then the serious safety feature became a bit of a twister.  “If a tornado touches down while you’re walking and you’re far from a shelter, lie face down in a ditch.”


Of all the “do’s” and “don’ts” of disaster preparation, diving into a ditch is a “never.”  Depending on the depth of water, you could survive the storm but drown in stagnant water.


The advice continued but not in a straight line.  “Besides protecting yourself from flying debris, this is also a good way to convince the tornado that you are already dead and not worth chasing.”


Actually that’s pretty good advice if you’re being pursued by a black bear, but not an act of nature.


I’m sure some weather forecaster somewhere has used the line “this tornado seems to have a mind of its own.”  But that’s just a figure of speech.


In order for a violent act of nature to assume the reasoning or instinctive power of an animal it would have to be named Katrina and intentionally target New Orleans for its liberal attitude toward sex, homosexuality and abortion, this according to God’s translator and noted severe storm interpreter, Reverend Pat Robertson.


Otherwise it’s all meteorological chaos and – as far as your pants falling down when you were just seconds away from the shelter door when the tornado caught up to you from behind – real bad luck.


The once-serious, suddenly-strange article on disaster safety concluded with “There are many benefits to surviving a tornado including having a wicked story to tell and not dying.”


Well, that’s hard to argue with, because if you die at the end of a wicked tornado story, it’s a really tough tell.  That’s like dying in a seedy room at the NoTell Motel under mysterious circumstances.  The wicked story dies with you and the air conditioner which still had a Samurai sword stuck in it when the maid arrived two days later.


The Daily Eastern News may not offer sound advice for surviving a tornado, but they do prove yet again that even in the most horrific events, there is always humour.


Jan Yount, the coordinator of disaster services in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that killed dozens and left thousands homeless, firmly believes the real healing in New Orleans began with a counter attack of humour from the kids.


The Pascagoula High School choir produced a parody hit song called ‘Downtown Got Run Over By Katrina” sung to the tune of ‘Grandma Got Run over By A Reindeer.”


People lined up to buy it and the media played it non-stop.


“We just bought that brand new sofa,

Now it’s floatin’ down the street.

We lost all our big screen TV’s,

Now we can walk into the store with bare feet.”


Okay so it’s never going to be recorded by Barbara Streisand but the CD sold 2,000 copies and the proceeds went to recovery relief.


Yount says she’s seen bare foundations with signs that read “For Sale.  Needs TLC.”  Another heap of bricks and mortar had a sign stuck on it:  “Need A Fixer-Upper?”


“A sense of humour is a good sign that people are starting to recover emotionally,” says Yount.


I was watching NBC Evening News after 100 or more tornadoes and twisters literally attacked the south U.S. states with Alabama taking the hardest hits.


The pictures of devastation were far-reaching and complete – fields denuded, trees either downed or stripped, vehicles damages and some hurled through the air like tumbleweed.  The camera man zoomed in on two neighboring houses.  One had been wrenched right off its foundation and ended up on the neighbour’s property.  The other was now just a foundation, the former wooden structure now part of a sprawling heap of kindling across the street.


Beside the relocated house a man stood crying.  From up the basement stairs of the foundation emerged another man, squinting in the bright sunlight and looking around in disbelief at his neighbourhood that closely resembled bombed-out Dresden after WWII.  Spotting his crying neighbour he cupped his hand and yelled:  “Hey!  Get your house out of my driveway!”


They approached each other, half crying, half laughing and then they hugged and I thought yeah, that’s how the human spirit endures damn near everything man and mother nature can thrown at it … with a hug … and a jolt of unexpected humour.  A remarkable and memorable moment as two men stood in the graveyard of shredded memorabilia.


As a tool for coping with disaster, humour is as good as time itself.

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