Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Henryville Family thankful for their lives and for community support

The following post is by Angela Nicholas, a Red Cross volunteer from the Coastal South Carolina Chapter in Myrtle Beach, SC. Angela is a former Chapter Executive and is currently a volunteer with Red Cross Public Affairs. During her time in Kentuckiana, Angela collected stories from Southern Indiana and Kentucky residents affected by the March 2 tornadoes.

Tricia Gilles smiles as she chats with sons, Caleb, 11, and Collin, 10. Mrs. Gilles has been surrounded by her family at Southern Indiana Rehab Hospital during her recuperation from injuries sustained in the March 2 tornado that destroyed their Henryville, Indiana home.

Tricia Gilles was on the job at Best Buy and not paying much attention to the weather March 2 while her husband, Darrell, who works for Kaiser Flooring in Henryville, Indiana, was listening to the storm chasers on Twitter. By late afternoon, Darrell was getting nervous about the weather and texted Tricia to say there was going to be a bad storm. She left work to pick up their three kids at school and he headed home about 3 p.m.

Relating their story from Tricia’s hospital room at Southern Indiana Rehabilitation Hospital in New Albany, Darrell said, “We knew the storm was coming. We got home and turned on the TV and I’m still not thinking tornado.” But the couple prepared anyway, piling blankets and pillows in their safe space.

“Our shelter is in a closet and we were packing it full of pillows. I went outside and it was not raining but off in the distance I could see a funnel cloud. I was hoping it would take a different path but it headed right toward us,” he said.

Tricia got the children, Caleb, 11, Collin, 10, and Mia 8, ready while Darrell watched out the window. Collin asked if he could put on his baseball helmet. He had heard on the radio on the way home from school that kids should put on their helmets if they had one.

“We tried not to freak them out,” Darrell said. “It (the tornado) was about 1,500 feet away when I knew we were taking the hit.”

Joining his family in the closet, Darrell and Tricia held on tight to the children as the house took to the air. “You lose your stomach,” Darrell said. “I was mashing them (the kids) hard as I could and the house was twisting and then landed with a loud boom.”

The family felt the blow. Dazed but awake and on his knees, Darrell said it went from pitch black to bright and it took him a few minutes to figure out where he was. The house had landed near a small lake that is usually about 60 feet away. Nothing looked the same. His neighbor’s house was half gone and their home lay in pieces around them.

“Tricia started yelling that her back hurt,” Darrel said. “I couldn’t breath and couldn’t reach her. My teeth felt strange in my mouth. The kids were all face down and not moving, nothing. Then Caleb started to move and the kids started to pop up.”

Darrell told everyone not to move and to calm down. “I’m thinking something’s got to be bad wrong with everybody. No one should walk away from that,” he said. Realizing he had to do something, Darrell worked through his pain to try to reach the neighbor’s house with the kids but he didn’t make it before the hail started. Some people ran down the hill to help as they all watched a second storm spinning. While the storm did not touch down it brought hail the size of softballs. The good Samaritans, EMT Karen Miller and her boyfriend, used a door from the house to cover Tricia with the man just having room to stick his head under the door to avoid the beating. Darrell had to use drywall to cover him and the children with Caleb getting “pretty beat up” and suffering two damaged vertebrae. Once the hail stopped the good Samaritans strapped Tricia to the door and put her in a pickup truck to get her to the hospital using their jackets to cover her. Darrell, by now going into shock from a broken sternum, 14 broken ribs, a dislocated collar bone, and broken jaw, managed to get the rest of the family into the neighbor’s house avoiding downed trees and electric lines along the way.

Mia had a severe concussion and once at the hospital had to be placed in a coma to bring her out of seizures she was suffering. She also had a lacerated liver. It was 10-year-old Collin--who had worn his baseball helmet through the storm--that suffered only a few bruises from the hail.

The family was among the thousands of people who survived the EF-4 tornado that took the lives of 38 people in Kentucky and Indiana that day. As they recover from the tragedy, the Red Cross has been there to help with their immediate emergency needs, providing food and clothing and offering mental health counseling. But Tricia said, unlike some families, they are not having nightmares.

“We have just this peace about it,” said Tricia who suffered a shattered pelvis and has undergone two surgeries since the incident occurred. “In the closet my prayer was for God to save my babies. He went above that, not only answering that prayer, but he saved us, too. Our kids don’t have to go through that devastation. There’s some reason we are here and there are people out there, the Red Cross and others who want to help. We are so thankful for the help from Red Cross and everyone. You hear all these horrible stories on the news and now this; you realize there are still good people out there, people who care.”