Going Underground in a Tornado

I live in Joplin, MO and survived the tornado that destroyed most of our town. This tornado was one of the worst ever recorded in this area and many people here lost their lives. I want to share a very simple precaution that I took to stay alive that might never cross some peoples minds.

It was a very sunny day on May 22nd and reports of a tornado watch started coming in about 4 hours prior to the storm. At about 5:40 PM the skies started turning darker. I went out on my front porch and the wind started picking up. A few minutes later I could hear a sound that is indescribable. I looked in the sky and saw a huge black monster-like figure coming my way. I paused because I wasn't even sure what it was. When you think of a tornado you think of a typical funnel cloud like you see on TV. This cloud was 1 mile wide and reached as high as the sky. There was no obvious funnel cloud. I was just kind of in a state of shock seeing something so massive. Just seeing the size and power of this tornado I knew there was no way I wanted to be above ground.

In my side yard there is a man hole. As the storm got closer I popped the top off with a steel bar, lowered my girlfriend and a neighbor down and then jumped in myself. We were very safe and secure about 7 feet underground. I would peek my head up whenever possible just to see it move slowly by and causing terrible destruction. I did not loose my house as so many others did but the amount of flying debris was unreal.

Every time I tell someone this story about jumping in a manhole they always say, "wow what a great idea" and, "I would have never thought of that." I truly believe this action could be a life saver. Think of how many man holes there are around each town, these are virtually the same thing people spend thousands of dollars on to have buried in their yards as storm shelters. Some people might argue that there are gasses that could harm you in some of these man holes, that might be the case if you tried to live in one. A tornado passes fairly quickly so in this case we were only in there for about 5 minutes.

Houses were ripped completely off of their foundations and from their crawl spaces so for a tornado of this size the only true place to be safe was way underground. Anyway thanks for your time and I just feel this is something that I should tell others. I know tornado season is about over for this year but for future awareness if this could save someone's life as it did ours it would be wonderful thing.

Darren Wheat


Editor's note: Serious consideration should be given to having more than one access point for underground shelters. In storms like this debris can easily cover the entrance leaving people trapped until rescue personnel realize there is someone there. A means of communications that will work from underground is also advisable.

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