Silence.  The eerie uncaptured sound that falls on a group of people who have been deafened by the wind and are bracing themselves for the next wave. The quiet of children not crying, the hush of parents huddled over cradles in an attempt to protect their infant. Multiple texting going on with barely a sound as fingers are too shaky to punch the keypad correctly.

The sound of survival.

That will be my ingrained memory from the tornado that engulfed us at the Lambert Airport in St. Louis. People have asked if there was a warning. We had no siren, no call to safety. The first sign that the air was different was dust falling from the vents. The swift brush of an air current that wasn't the normal A/C flow. Fluffy particles that landed on my sandwich and prompted me to move away from my seat and unknowingly relocating to the gate that was about to welcome a F2 twister.

C16. Wind starts coming in. The bartender shouts for someone to close the door but no one had opened the door. Anything not securely fastened started to fly. The wind held my body and I could not move forward. I glanced away from the door and saw people running towards me. I turned to run.

And couldn't move. This time the wind was pulling me back, starting first with the roller bag. Letting go of the bag I made it a dozen steps before I was restrained again. My backpack hit the ground without a sound as I was now surrounded by wind and dust. The shop ahead had closed off with the plastic security screen. If it was locked I was in trouble, if not I had a chance.

The plastic barrier was loose enough that I could pull it open and squeeze in. The swirling dust that replaced the air was not conducive to breathing. The sales clerk was wandering around in shock, praying in another language. The look in her eyes showed that she was not coherent. I hit the floor to avoid being knocked over by flying objects. I pulled my jacket over my face to not choke on the dust. And all around was the indescribable sound of a tornado.

A sound that I had never heard before and won't forget. I have no words that can bring you ears into this moment.

The wind tunnel finished it's roar through the concourse.  A few people came out and started checking the safety of  others. I slipped back out to the sight of people lying down on the floor, bright red blood splatters,  and luggage debris. A crazy sparking of glass showed that the windows had relocated to the floor. Not one wisp of wind was in the air. I wondered if I could find my luggage. Yes, there to my right covered in dust was a purple mass that was my backpack. After a brief risk assessment I ran and got my pack. Farther down, my suitcase tempted me and I went for it.

Security came out and said we had a second warning that a "debris ball" from the tornado was on the way. C15, now without ceiling, rained down, the floor soaked with water. To cross that space would put someone in the Darwin category. We hunkered down in the hall between the gates. Darkness enhanced the atmosphere as the power went out and the tension went up.

The hall fell silent.

The time between a tornado and the all clear is an eternity. The rest of the time is waiting.

Everyone has a story from that night. This is mine.


  1. My God, Karen. How utterly terrifying. I am so glad you are ok and here to tell your story.


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