Panic in The Plains

Sorry if this post is a bit text heavy.

As I’m sure many of you have seen/heard Athens County was struck by a series of tornados about a week ago, Thursday, September 16.  A lot of the talented photojournalists here at OU immediately took to task documenting the aftermath of the storms and their effects on the community that night or the next morning.  To tell the truth I don’t know if I would have made the effort to drive the 7 minutes from campus to The Plains to do the same had I been relaxing in my apartment or hanging out with friends at the time.  However, I didn’t really get the choice.

I had been assigned to shoot the Athens-Alexander soccer doubleheader taking place at Rutter Field on the campus of Athens High School, and as I showed up I saw that the game had been delayed due to lightning in the distance.  Not thinking much of this I hung out for a while thinking the storm would blow over and that the game would be able to continue.  Most people had taken refuge by that point as word spread that the storm cell was actually a pretty strong one, headed right in our direction.  However, me and a few others were too foolish to take those warnings to heart and continued to wait around for the storm to blow over.

Within a few minutes the sky had turned a sinister shade of the darkest grey you can imagine and sirens in the distance provided the final warning that maybe we should take cover.  Well the nearest building was the concession stand behind the home side bleachers, which seemed like a perfectly fine structure to hide from the rain in.  However, within less than a minute of us ducking into the concession stand the lights started to flicker on and off and the building began to shake unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  That was when the roof of the building blew clear off and it seemed like all hell broke loose.

After hitting the ground elementary school tornado drill style (minus the protection of a text book guarding my neck) we looked around to assess an injuries and find a way out.  Amazingly no one seemed to be severely injured and we immediately tried to find better shelter.  All of the doors were blocked by fallen debris so we were forced to climb out through one of the windows that would normally be reserved for serving food.

We then made a frantic sprint for the locker rooms where the girls and boys soccer teams had been hiding out.

The locker room was a scene unto itself.  People were obviously shaken up from what had just occurred, however, those most affected were the ones who had lost contact with loved ones and couldn’t reach them through their phones as it was near impossible to get a signal for about half an hour.

After things had settled down a bit I took a minute to explore what had become of the field and the surrounding areas.

The field, school, and surrounding areas were in pretty rough shape.  A few days later, Craig Holman, picture editor of the Columbus Dispatch did a fly over of the area and actually took a picture of the concession stand where we had taken shelter when the storm hit.

Luckily, there have been no reported deaths linked to the storm.  However, a lot of people lost a lot in the storm and it was a pretty scary and horrific night for anyone who was unlucky enough to be involved.  But, I’d like to think I made the best of a bad situation as I was able to make a few decent images and some that were even picked up by the Columbus Dispatch.

Bust most importantly I’m here to write this, call my parents, go out and laugh and dance with friends, and even go to class once the weekend is over. I don’t want to sound like a cliched movie character who has a near death experience and temporarily walks through life with rose colored glasses on, but it was almost a blessing in disguise to have a reminder to not take things for granted and really try to enjoy everyday for what it is. Cause who knows, next time I’m in a concession stand that has it’s roof ripped off by a tornado I might not be so lucky.

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One thought on “Panic in The Plains

  1. Pingback: Tornado Recovery: for the Dispatch « Ryan M.L. Young – Photojournalist

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