Several years ago - actually, probably 10 or 12 years ago now - my parents' neighborhood was hit by a tornado. They live outside of Cincinnati, Ohio and though their home was unscathed, the path of destruction was within a mile of their house. As the residents were busy cleaning up the scattered ruins of their lives, gawkers came to stare. Imagine for a minute that your life is in pieces around your feet, and someone shows up to take a tour of your closed-off street and snap a few photos. Eventually, the people in the neighborhood resorted to posting a sign that said, "Tragedy is not a Tourist Attraction." How sad that people couldn't figure out -on their own - that maybe their presence was not needed, unless they were there to help.
Fast forward to 2011. We live in a western suburb of St. Louis, about 10 miles from where the recent EF4 tornado just ripped apart a several mile path. Our airport took a direct hit, shattering windows and ripping a hole in the roof, closing the only international airport for 200 miles for over 24 hours. Even though our own home and neighborhood dodged a bullet, I have been stunned by the damage we have seen. Because of where I work, I drive right past the airport, as well as Bridgeton, one of the hardest hit areas. Even from the highway, the devastation is obvious and heart-wrenching. I personally know several people whose homes are now uninhabitable because of the tornado and ensuing damage. The neighboring school district was hard hit and was closed today, just a couple of miles from where I teach and where my students come each and every day. It is absolutely mind boggling to see how a tornado can completely uproot an enormous tree, rip a hole in the side of a warehouse, completely demolish a house, and leave the fence in the yard completely untouched. One side of the highway was virtually untouched while the other side literally looked like a bomb had gone off. My drive home took nearly twice as long because of all of the drivers taking in all of the damage and staring as we trudged along in the rain. All I thought about was my friends who lost their homes. How desperately I wanted to be able to help, donate something, even take a day off of work in order to help sort through the mess. I know enough to know that I need to just stay out of the way, but it is a terribly helpless feeling to know how close we came to sharing in their tragedy and knowing friends that have been so impacted, with so little we can do to help.
So, we'll donate money and time and food...whatever our friends, acquaintances and neighbors need. As for the gawkers out there...this is not an amusement park. A violent storm ripped apart someone's home....their child's toys are gone, their clothes are strewn about the street, their cars overturned. They cannot live in their homes and can't go back to retrieve the most precious items they have. Pictures are soaked and probably destroyed. Please, please, please...stay out of the way. Do not go for a drive to see what you can see...do not take a walking tour and snap some photographs. Though miraculously no one was killed, or even seriously hurt, there is a tremendous amount of heartache out there, and it is not there for your entertainment. If you want to do something, make it something useful. Here are some ways to get involved:
- Go to http://www.redcrossstl.org/ and donate.
- Call the United Way. '
- "Like" the group on Facebook called "Pattonville Provides" that will help that affected school district.
Say a thankful prayer tonight that it is not you, and that the worst complaint you probably have is that it's rained too much in the last few weeks. Don't let someone else's tragedy become a tourist attraction.