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Be prepared for something wicked - Bob Paslay

I am a great respecter of weather and what damage it can do.

This week's scary weather reminded me of the first tornado I ever covered. It was a medium-sized town and the twister had churned down Main Street, wiping out one building after another.

As I approached in my car up a rural highway I saw some tree damage but thought "this isn't so bad" and then I turned onto Main Street. Whew, it almost took my breath away.

It was amazing. The twister had hit like a pogo stick. One building was standing intact and the one next to it was wiped out and then the next was untouched.

This seems to be the pattern this week's twister followed in some towns. One side of the street wiped out and the houses just across the street pretty much untouched.

And then when it is gone, there is an eerie quiet, a calm that gives no sign of the potential giant killer having visited except for the damage.

Besides the fear of dying, the other aspect that scares people so much about tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes is that they disrupt our entire view of the safety of our houses.

We put security bars and double doors and burglar alarms on our homes and we sleep safely at night knowing we are pretty secure from intruders. Our personal items are all nicely arranged, the photos in fancy leather-bound photo albums and the records in little folders.

And then this giant hand and foot reaches down from the sky and rips open gaps in our safe house and hurls our belongings like matchsticks. A tornado is no respecter of security doors and burglar alarms.

That blank look on people's faces as they stand in their yards the next morning looking at their "safe belongings" hanging from trees and in the back yards of neighbors. Pictures that mean so much are nothing more than paper in the wind to Mother Nature.

And the only comfort that people can take away is that having stared in the face of death, they are alive.

One of my reporters once interviewed a woman only a short time after her house was wiped out by a tornado. At it hit the house, she ran into the yard and wrapped her arms around a tree. Her feet were flapping as she clung on for dear life.

And she simply said later, "It was just me, God and the tree."

Simple eloquence is sometimes the best.

Years after covering my first tornado, I helped a friend clean up his storage building-portable trailer business. He, his wife and mother were inside the little office when the twister hit from the back, tearing out part of the business, reeking havoc on anything outside and then skipped away. Parts of metal storage buildings were hanging from trees across the road, things two strong men couldn't lift were picked up and tossed helter skelter.

We all need to reach inside ourselves and help others hit by this tragedy because it is only through a luck of nature that it is not us.

And people respond, sending money and clothes and helping provide shelter for victims.

The other thing we need to do that we often never do is plan, because safe inside our Colgate Shield, we believe it will never happen to us.

You need to round up all the negatives and personal papers and put them someplace safe, like one of those $20 small safes they sell at the discount stores. You need to shoot pictures of your personal items and label them. You need to make sure you have enough insurance coverage. You need to talk to family members, especially kids and elderly ones, about what to do if a tornado or hurricane is bearing down on the house.

Having said that, how many times have I said to reporters that you have to store a story along in your computer so if there is a flash of lightning and the screen goes blank you don't lose all that work? How many times have I heard an expletive deleted screamed out as the flash of lightning cracks and the story disappears?

But look at it this way, the gods of equality have a little system so that if you prepare for something it never happens. So it's a good way of keeping the bad weather away from your door. Also if you get organized along the way you can find that screw driver set you got for Christmas and you've been looking for and couldn't find.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor for the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or bpaslay@news-daily.com.