An American Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) drives down a dusty, wind-blown, dirt road marked only by a twisted road sign that reads “Pemiscot County Road 506.”
The ERV driver blasts the vehicle’s horn looking for people who are hungry or need clean-up supplies. But, its calls go unheeded on this stretch of road – for the moment anyway.
This rural area of the county was hit particularly hard by the tornados that devastated Southeast Missouri on April 2—just 10 days earlier.
As the ERV creeps to a stop by a storm-ravaged debris field, the seasoned driver’s keen eye notices movement off to his right. A large group of people begins to emerge from the center of the rubble, where a small camper sits.
This is the “new home” of Kenneth and Alinda Brown, a makeshift oasis sitting on the shattered remains of the original home site. Kenneth approaches the large sliding window of the ERV.
“How many meals can we get? We have a few mouths to feed,” he says.
Their order is quickly filled.
With the hot meals passed out and clean up supplies disbursed, a quick friendship is struck between the ERV crew and the Browns. Kenneth gives the “grand tour” of his destroyed farm and tells the horrific tale of how his family survived that night.
“We hopped out of the truck, we didn’t have time to grab anything – just headed down into the storm cellar,” says Kenneth. “By the time I was on the last step, my truck went flying over my head.”
“There was no time to think,” adds his wife Alinda.
By the time the tornado bared down on the farm, 15 family members had taken cover in a 10’x 10’ makeshift storm cellar that had been erected just the summer before. A rusty log chain was woven through a steel door to keep it from flying off in the high winds.
“The worst ting is listening to it go over the top of you, knowing you are losing everything,” Alinda says as she recalls the sounds of the twister ripping into her home.
When the thunderous sounds subsided, the Browns emerged from the safety of their underground bunker to find their home scattered into fields and twisted around fallen trees. It was dark and eerily quiet. No sirens, police or fire trucks. Just shadows of an unrecognizable landscape.
The Brown family felt and stumbled their way through the wreckage of the farm towards the dirt road, gathered their wits and started walking towards the nearest town—Hayti, Mo.
“We had no information after it was over, the only thing we had was my brother’s police scanner,” says Kenneth.
“We walked about 2 miles towards Hayti before being picked up by a friend,” says Alinda. “Waited in town until we found out what all had happened and where to get water and food, but we needed to get back to our home and animals.”
“We slept in our car for the first few days,” explains Kenneth. “We borrowed a small camper from a friend so we could stay on our property; the looting started soon after.
“They were bold enough to start shaking our camper with us sleeping inside. When I came outside to protect me family, they took off running into the darkness. I did not know if they would come back,” he says shaking his head.
“The Red Cross will be here, it just might take some time,” says Kenneth. “We are not the only ones who need help. We knew once the Red Cross had things set-up in town, you would make your way out to us.
“I am proud of the Red Cross and the things they have done for us and our community,” he says. “You have given us hope—thank you.”
Despite his family’s dramatic losses, Kenneth remains grateful.
“A lot of people complain about the things they lost,” he says. “I am happy for the things that were saved – our lives. We were raised the country way and, with your help, we will survive.”
Marty Robey is a writer/photographer with the Central Iowa Chapter of the American Red cross in Des Moines, Iowa.All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of recent disasters and thousands of other disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to those in need. Call 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation.