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The storm - Joel Hall

During my life, I have lived through a lot of natural disasters and come out alive.

Hurricane Fran sent about seven tall oak trees toppling onto my family's apartment. At the time, we were in Raleigh, N.C. The damage destroyed the entrance to our house and left a tree-sized hole in the roof over my parent's bedroom.

A few years later, Hurricane Bonnie hit my home in Virginia Beach. While not as damaging as Fran, Bonnie took out our electricity, sent my favorite weeping willow tree into a nearby pond, and flooded many people out of their homes.

I've been through scores of nor'easters, damaging lightning storms, typhoons, and even a couple of earthquakes. However, as bad as those disasters are, I understand them a lot more than tornados. It's always easier to internalize widespread destruction rather than the kind that destroys one house and leaves the next unscathed.

I've been through two or three tornados in my life. During those times, I was usually in class, hiding under a desk or sitting in a fortified part of the school with a bunch of other students who were just happy to get out of algebra. The tornado-like weather last weekend was the first I have experienced, first-hand, as an adult.

I am really fortunate to be alive because I truly had no idea what was going on. Even as a journalist, it's sometimes easy to get buried in your work and forget to check the Weather Channel. I left work on Friday without a care in the world, ready to cram two weekends of fun into one, to make up for having to work the weekend before.

When I left work, I went to Joe's Crab Shack, got a po'boy and a Negra Modello, and congratulated myself for surviving the fortnight from Hell. While driving home, dark, tall, ominous clouds could be seen in the distance.

Through the clouds, I could see dim flashes of blanketed lighting, but I could hear no thunder. It seemed very much like a phenomenon that was happening over there, rather than over here, so I went about my business.

When I got home, I started watching a boxing match on Showtime. As the winner of the split decision started to speak to the crowd, his words began slowing to a crawl. That's when I realized it wasn't a punch-drunk boxer making a slurry victory speech, but rather that extreme weather was hindering my satellite feed.

I looked out my window and the raindrops coming down were as big as walnuts. Still, unable to access any local channels with the satellite down, I said, "Gee, that's strange," and went to bed.

The next day, I went about my business, doing everything I had planned for the most part. Somehow, even as it rained on and off throughout the day, the sun always was shining whenever I was on the road.

In the late afternoon - while in search of a rare missing part for my vehicle -- my travels took me to a junk yard in Conley. Then came the storm.

Walking to the entrance, everything seemed perfectly normal. With little warning, however, the sky turned dark and rained down an assault of hail. Stuck at the entrance of a junkyard -- yards away from all kinds of sharp-metal debris -- I realized that, if there was a tornado, I was in the worst possible place.

The next thought that went through my mind was perhaps I should have listened to the radio -- and not my MP3 player -- in the car.

Around 7 p.m., the sun came out again. As I made my way to the north side to visit a friend, I was able to see some of the carnage left behind by the storm. I realized not only that I was lucky, but blessed.

The lesson I learned Saturday is that even as somebody who gathers information for a living, it's always important to keep your ears to the ground.