The wind was howling uncontrollably as our Grand Caravan sat on the highway in the path of death. Cars and big trucks lined the road, stopping because of the incessant rain that began to pelt their windshields. A minuscule overpass in the distance was our only protection, yet it was far from our reach. There was wall-to-wall traffic. Huddled up close in the van, we didn’t know what to do. The sky was dark and the grave clouds were approaching. We didn’t know if we could escape serious injury or death.
The day of the storm didn’t start out different from any other day. At that time, my sister was a freshman at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. My family and I had taken the nine-hour drive to the university to pick her up for Spring Break. The family trip to the university was memorable. The terrifying experience happened when we were taking her back. This was an experience that is truly unforgettable.
My family set up the nine-hour drive back to the university, dreading my sister, April, being so far away from home. The rented van was just the right size for us. It would seat eight people comfortably and there were only five of us. My mother, sister, grandmother, brother, and I piled into the van and began our journey from Birmingham. In the back of my mind I knew something was amiss.
The sky teased us as we went on our journey through Mississippi and Tennessee, going from a nice blue sky to gray ones. No rain fell from the sky until we reached Arkansas.
My sister was sleeping, while my mother was behind the wheel. I was playing a game with my brother while my grandmother sat contently in the back seat reading the newspaper. The radio was on, playing a soft R&B song with which I was not familiar. A breaking weather report chimed in. The meteorologist had located a tornado seven miles north of Greenland County. “If you are in the path of this storm, get to your place of safety now…”
I ignored the meteorologist and continued to listen to the radio. My sister sat up, apparently shaken. “That’s where we are.” A light rain had begun to fall and the sky was gloomy but it appeared to be just another rainy day.
Cars began to slow up ahead of us and our car came to a halt. My brother and I looked up from our GameBoy and tried to decipher what my sister was saying. My sister stuttered, “That’s where we are. We’re in Greenland.”
My mother looked at her and then out of the window. The trees were blowing hard now, and the rain had begun to pelt the window. The sky looked threatening and cars began to pull off the side of the highway.
My mother kept driving, almost at a snail’s pace through the wind and rain with numerous cars. We were all trapped there. No one could move. We could only wait for what was coming.
My brother began to panic yelling, “Get off the freeway! Take an exit! We’re going right into it!” My grandmother tried to calm him down, while I began to cry. My mother was still holding the reigns, trying to gain control of the situation. The next exit was miles away and even then, it was no guarantee there would be a stable place for us to go. This was farming country, fields for miles both ways. We were caught, looking death in the face.
The rain continued to pound our windshield. No one knew what to do. Should we pull over in all this traffic and wait it out? Should we continue on and get past it? My mother chose the latter.
The rain began to blindside us as the meteorologist on the radio continued naming counties that were in the path of the storm. “Farmland County.” My mother glanced at my sister and asked her, “Where is that?” She looked back at her with fear in her eyes and said softly, “Here.” We stopped. The traffic was at a standstill and a loud roar, resembling a train, could be heard over our heads. My grandmother no longer assured me everything would be okay. We just waited. It was the only thing we could do and the only thing we could control.
The car shook and you could tell the funnel cloud was over us. Thunder seemed to shake the ground as golf-size hail could be heard hitting the top of the roof. Cloud to ground lightening created flashes of light above our heads. We all grabbed on to each other, my brother shielding my body. What I thought were the last seconds of my life passed so slowly. I wanted to scream, but we all prayed instead. We prayed for life and if it must be done, death.
The car stopped shaking and everyone looked up. The funnel cloud was moving rapidly to the side of us, out of the distance. We lifted up off the seats, still in shock. My grandmother asked if everyone was okay and we all replied, “yes”. The cars eventually began to move again, in a slow pace down the freeway. Trees were down, debris laid on the side of the road, but we were safe.
My family was in disbelief, but overjoyed all the same as we traveled the remainder of our trip. We were only thirty minutes away from our destination at this point. Just before we arrived, I saw something in the sky. A bright, multi-colored rainbow stretched across the highway, seemingly never-ending, but beautiful all the same. At that point, I knew we were safe. I knew we’d survived perhaps the most frightening, unforgettable day of our lives.