Brown family rides out storm in food pantry

Mardi Brown holds canning kettle in food pantry shelter. Photo by Sherry Vogel
Mardi Brown holds canning kettle in food pantry shelter. Photo by Sherry Vogel

Ten members of family huddle in 3×5 space as tornado rages

By Sherry Vogel

   Bruce and Mardi Brown’s house was full of family Saturday afternoon as they were taking care of their seven grandchildren at their Texas Avenue home June 11. They had spent the afternoon at the new splash-park, which was in its first day of operation. Mardi tells of stopping at her daughter, Michelle Moser’s home, so the kids could get out of their wet clothes, before coming over to her house to barbecue hamburgers. Because it was getting windy, they rushed fearing that a storm was coming in. When hurrying out the door, Mardi forgot to pick up her cell phone, which she laid down on the coffee table.

   As Bruce, Mardi and their son Kelly grilled the burgers they began to watch the unusual circling movements of the clouds across the sky. Fearing a severe storm they had all the children go down in the basement family room to play. She remembers telling the kids, “If grandma hollers, you kids come.” Mardi continued, “Then this very large cloud seemed to have a finger that was going up and down.  Each time the finger came down it was getting bigger and bigger.” At that point they realized a tornado was quickly moving their way. Browns did remember hearing the community siren sound just before they were on their way to the basement.

  Heading down the basement steps, Bruce shouted, “We need to go somewhere without windows.” Realizing the basement had windows all around, they gathered the kids and stumbled into the food pantry located under the basement stairs.  The little space, surrounded by pantry shelves, was no larger than a 3×5’ area with a smaller foot space under the graduated wooden steps.  The area under the steps was packed with occasionally used items. The entire family of two large men, one woman and seven children crammed themselves inside. Son Kelly grabbed a water bath canning kettle and lifted it to make a slightly bigger space for the kids. He lifted it overhead to his dad. Bruce with kettle in one hand opened the door to put it out. The door was just barely open when suddenly the basement window came forcefully shattering across the laundry room. The kettle was ripped from Bruce’s hand, as the lid soared across the family room. Bruce was able to wrench the door shut, while the children wailed. Mardi described the sounds she heard as loud, then after a minute’s  thought, she said, “The sounds were the sounds of destruction.” She shared how the wind roared and how they could hear heavy objects flying through the air.  It was then that she realized she didn’t have her cell phone, which she always carries in the back pocket. She remembers worrying, “I won’t be able to call anyone if we get buried and they need to dig us out.” Then unexpectedly everything instantly became quiet. She told the grandkids, “We are safe. We are safe.” Without delay Bruce opened the door, while Mardi urged him to “wait, wait for awhile.” Bruce replied, “I gotta go look” as he and then Kelly bound up the basement steps.

   “OMG! The neighbor’s house is gone! I’ve got to go look for them!” Then he took off.

   Bruce and son, Kelly, and two other brave neighbors found themselves digging their female neighbor from the rubble. She and her husband were able to be escorted into the Brown home. Mardi did what she could to aid them. A short time later an ambulance had arrived in the neighborhood. Emergency personnel was flagged down. It was decided that Mardi would drive the neighbors to the hospital, so the ambulance would be able to transport casualities unable to stand.

   In hindsight Mardi reflects, “I wasn’t ready for a disaster to happen.” Then she laughed, “although we had lotsa food because we were in the food pantry.” Later that night, Bruce had mentioned taking out her candles and matches, when the electricity was out after the tornado.  Mardi then realized, “I no longer own any candles. I have all electric scented pots that run off electricity. I also need to get some flashlights and batteries.” She grinned as she vowed, “And I will be moving stored items out from under the basement steps.”