Years ago during a Sacrament meeting talk a new member of the ward introduced himself and his family by saying they were survivors. He went on to explain that he and his wife were children in Idaho when the Teton Dam broke. I remembered reading about the Teton Dam disaster in my monthly copy of The Friend. When I was a kid there weren’t many natural disasters that made it into The Friend. I was impressed by this adult brother and the terrible trial he survived.

A while later I mentioned the brother’s comment to another friend in the same ward. She scoffed and said, “Yeah, my husband and I choked back laughter when he said he survived the Teton Dam. We were kids in Idaho when the Dam broke. We were there when it happened. Nothing terrible happened. All it meant was we got out of school for the year early and the adults were busy. We were able to have a super long summer vacation.”

I laughed. Perspective is everything.

Since then, natural disasters across the world have piled up like unwanted dirty socks under the bed. They are all around us but no one talks about them until it is your bedroom that stinks.

My family and I survived a harrowing night huddled in the basement while a tornado tore through our town. I was terrified thinking our 100 year old house was going to collapse, burying us in the basement. While considering the possibility of the five us spending days waiting for rescue, I realized that the rows of canned food stocked nicely on shelves in the basement did us no good without a can opener to open them. And the stockpile of candles was worthless without matches, which were nestled next to the can opener upstairs in the kitchen drawer. The kitchen drawer attached to the walls that were shaking like crazy, the wind howling like banshees from hell. We were doomed and I knew it.

My husband had completely the opposite reaction to the obvious wreckage staring him in the face. He denied, even as the town’s tornado sirens blared and the radio weather service directed everyone to seek shelter in the lowest possible place, that the storm was anything more than a light rain shower. We argued in the dark basement, with three terrified children huddled under the laundry table begging to sing hymns. He insisted I was overreacting to a simple storm and I stubbornly refused to leave the basement until the storm passed.

It wasn’t until 3am, when the storm cleared and we emerged from the darkness to see trees upended, power lines down and our next door neighbors house damaged did he concede it probably was a tornado. We didn’t have power for 4 days. Two streets over, everything was fine. Within a day the local newspaper, while acknowledging that one person died in the storm, printed that the tornado was very small and didn’t do much damage. We needed to calm down and not overreact. I was insulted. It was fine for the editor of the newspaper to say all is well. His house was untouched.

Since our tornado experience, I have driven through my share of scary mid-west storms. We now live in Iowa where a devastating flood occurred two years ago. It is expected to take 15 years to rebuild everything that was damaged. Seeing the after effects of natural disasters is jaw dropping. I pray I never have to huddle in the basement again, my mind racing with all the worst-case scenarios.
I discovered from our small, simple storm that I am woefully unprepared for a real disaster. Yes, we have 72 hour kits, but that doesn’t guarantee that what you need in the moment is in the bag.
Just like I found out, having rows of canned food doesn’t matter if there is no way to eat it. Or that you will want to eat it.

The most important thing that I learned was how unprepared I was for the dizzying emotional toll a disaster takes. I was surprised at how long it took my heart to stop involuntarily racing when the routine monthly tornado sirens went off. I was shocked at how disrupted my sleep was and how I lost my appetite for anything other than junk food. Even though my house was fine, only a shingle was ripped off, I saw others who lost their roofs completely.

The editor of the newspaper was right. Compared to other storms, our tornado was small. But size doesn’t always tell the whole story.

Do you have experience with a natural disaster? What did you learn from it? And more importantly, did you survive the Teton Dam?