Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Caught Unaware

The initial drops were so gentle, so non-threatening that I decided against opening my umbrella. No thoughts were given to the darkening skies as I hurried from Sci High, where I’d been volunteering that morning, towards uptown Tulane campus, where I planned on catching the shuttle back to Deming Pavilion. The sudden torrential downpour came without warning so that by the time my slippery fingers successfully held the apparatus aloft, I was already drenched. Thunder and lightning became my companions, their rumbling voices taunting my legs to move faster despite the rutted walkways. My thoughts jumbled, and I wondered inanely if one was supposed to use an umbrella during lightning. Surely I would be struck? Or did that only apply to standing beneath a tree? My distress was compounded when tornado warnings from the Tulane emergency notification system sent incessant texts, instructing me to not leave class. Then came the phone calls.
“A tornado warning has been issued in your area, please remain indoors…”
I hung up each time. Frustrated, panicked, my only goal was to return to campus. When I finally arrived at my stop, I was informed that shuttle service was temporarily cancelled and given a number to call in two hours to check on the status. By this time, I wondered at my decision just hours ago to tutor. I marveled at the clear sunny skies of yesterday. I longed for dry clothes.
“Hey, we see you standing out here, would you like to come seek shelter with us?”
I turned to see a lady holding open the door to the Student Success office. Seek shelter? Is this for real?
“Exactly how serious is this tornado?” I asked as I followed her inside, where I was immediately taken to the back of the building to be with others who appeared to have also been caught unaware.
I discovered later, in my warm and dry room, that while my area was spared, others had not been so fortunate. Reports differ between the exact number of tornadoes that had touched down, but eight seemed to be pretty consistent. It saddened me to hear that the Ninth Ward, the neighborhood previously pummeled by Katrina, again suffered devastating damage. Thankfully, there were relatively few injuries and no loss of life.
Between answering concerned inquiries from families and friends and reassuring them of my well-being, I took a long hot shower, eradicating the chill from my bones. Then, at last, came blessed relief in the form of hanging up my wet clothes and putting away the umbrella that—surprisingly—survived the strong winds.

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