Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Solid brick homes destroyed in seconds
I have seen enough severe storm damage in the last year to last me a lifetime. But every time I arrive at a scene like I came across in Dyersburg, Tennessee, I remind myself that for the people I'm about to meet this is probably the first time they've seen destruction and loss like this.

Yesterday, I drove with Sheriff Jeff Holt through the neighborhoods leveled by the storm. These weren't neighborhoods with flimsy, mobile home structures. The houses that were disintegrated by this tornado were skillfully constructed and made of brick. So when you see wide open fields where 15 houses once stood and all that's left are the foundations, you can imagine how vicious this storm must have been.

Tornadoes, to me at least, are the most frightening storms to cover. Relatively speaking, you have time to prepare for hurricanes. But the people who were killed by these tornadoes only had a few final, frantic moments to take cover. In seconds, their homes disappeared.

When I was with Sheriff Holt yesterday, I asked him what the worst part of the storm had been for him. I could tell he was fighting back the emotion when he said he would never forget the face of an 11-month-old boy who was killed by the tornado.

That's why I remind myself that no matter how many times we cover a story like this, every storm is different.
Posted By Ed Lavandera, CNN Correspondent: 9:50 AM ET
  27 Comments
Death and destruction are never pleasant subjects. One can never be totally prepared for the unexpected. These people now have the arduous task of rebuilding their lives. Regardless of their beliefs, God be with them in this time of need...please pass that on to each one of them.
Posted By Anonymous FB, Del Rio, Texas : 10:35 AM ET
Such a humbling story. It really puts your life in perspective when you hear about how fast it can be taken away.
Posted By Anonymous JP, Las Cruces, New Mexico : 11:39 AM ET
I think we have had enough destruction in this nation of ours to last us for awhile. My heart and prayers go out to everyone who lost their homes and loved ones. I can't pretend to know what they must be going through as I have never exeperienced anything close to this in my lifetime. I hope that these people don't have to go through what the hurricane victoms have been through with all the red tape from the insurance companies and the government. Be strong and steadfast. God Bless the Child.
Posted By Anonymous Renee Blake, Sterling, Virginia : 11:41 AM ET
I pulled into Caruthersville yesterday to look at the damage done to my grandmother's house. I'll agree that most people I came in contact with had seen nothing of this magnitude. Personally, I had never seen such widespread damage to one area. As I stood on the roof of my grandmother's house, as far as I could see in all directions had been devastated. She lives a couple of blocks south of the school which was right in the path of the tornado. KFVS12 news has some footage of the tornado before it came into town. It's amazing how one day can make a difference.....birds chirps and squirrels and sun one day......chainsaws, hammers, and tears the next.
Posted By Anonymous Shaun Hatch, Jonesboro, AR : 11:46 AM ET
We all know the tragedy of people loosing their homes due to tornadoes. But seriously, have the authorities ever revised the building codes to withstand a tornado? I was perplexed at how a hurricane cat 3 destroyed homes that were only a couple of years old in Florida. By just looking at the local news we can have a good idea of what areas usually get hit by tornadoes or hurricanes. I can only assume either that the building codes are not adequate or the building codes are not enforced.
Posted By Anonymous Walter Pittsburgh PA : 12:18 PM ET
Ed, you are exactly right when you say:
"Relatively speaking, you have time to prepare for hurricanes. But the people who were killed by these tornadoes only had a few final, frantic moments to take cover."
People who live in states where disasters like this can happen are the ones that FEMA was created for. These are the people who deserve our sympathy, and help. Yet they will be forgotten when the next 'issue' arises in the beltway or major northeastern city. Why?-you may ask. The answer is simple:
1) These are quite, well-mannered, family oriented people,--the type of people the media likes to ignore.
2) These people are all white, therefore they have no mobilized propaganda machine that can inflate death tolls and damage estimates like the people of New Orleans had in Katrina. Remember the 10,000 death toll predictions???
3) These people live in a fairly rural area, not Manhattan. So the media, in their self-centered, egomaniacal way will ignore them, just so they can air stories like: Beware of mom's home cooking.
You make another great point in saying:
"I remind myself that for the people I'm about to meet this is probably the first time they've seen destruction and loss like this."
We should all remember the people like this who have their lives shattered, the people who went from day to day living the American Dream, the people we will all abandon, that the media will abandon, just because they aren't concentrated in a city, just because we can take the devastation in one video shot. To the individuals that this happened to are experiencing the same as those in the Ninth Ward.
The question we should all be asking ourselves is: Will we turn our backs on them like we have on some many others who have lost everything just because the body count didn't reach the critical mass?
Posted By Anonymous Brant, Madison, Wisconsin : 12:19 PM ET
Given his strong views on the subject, I assume Brant will be the first one to send in a donation to help the families begin to recover?
Posted By Anonymous Bekah Steimel St. Louis, Mo : 12:42 PM ET
There may be a better understanding of how to withstand windstorms like this with the Enhanced Fujita Scale which was introduced this year.

Instead of looking at the type of damage through the entire path, each structure is evaluated by it's construction type, the amount of damage, and the known force it takes to cause that damage. Several structural engineers have noted that it's a big advance forward to understand that a force 3 tornado will cause drastically different amounts of damage from building to building.

Once we establish a baseline for damage, local and state building codes will be revised, and materials providers can finally create products to a solid standard.
Posted By Anonymous David, Baltimore, MD : 12:51 PM ET
Not to downplay the destruction that occured, but most modern brick homes are not as solid as you think. Most brick today is just brick siding. It serves no structural purpose and wraps around a simple wood frame building. Old buildings are built of brick that is very thick and serves a load bearing, structural purpose.

Keep this in mind when you think you are secure in your modern brick home.
Posted By Anonymous Tim Richards, Atlanta, GA : 1:09 PM ET
As a youth growing up in rural Arkansas I can remember the devestation brought on by an unforgiving tornado. I remember my church, Reguge Baptist, laid to waste in a few moments. I can remember Becky and Vicky's house, totally destroyed. While the news does a good job of showing us the physical damage brough on by a tornado, we must not forget that there is the human component as well. Lives displaced, homes (not just houses) besieged by natures unforgiving wrath. Generations of family memories instantaneously disintigrated. Let us keep the families of these tragedies in our prayers.
Posted By Anonymous JJ, Las Cruces, NM : 1:25 PM ET
The brick homes you speek of are weaker than older frame homes. Why because the brick is an veneer and is supported by the stud framing. So when the wind pulsates it is moving more mass and will tear down the studs and lead to total destruction. The older frame homes have diagonal 1" thick lumber nailed over the studs and sometimes inside and out the newer brick homes us wafer board or OSB for support on the corners but they are rarely installed correctly with the proper amount of nails! More info than you wanted but newer brick homes are weaker than older frame homes!
Posted By Anonymous s gaskill kirbyville texas : 1:26 PM ET
I think you see my point Bekah,
it is that we should not sweep these people under the rug just becasue they don't have a politcal machine behind them. People's suffering and anguish should be ignored becasue they aren't identified as a particular group or niche in society. These are people that deserve our government's and society's help too, not jsut mine or yours. Helping them is just as much the governments responsibility as helping Katrina victims, only this time it will be on a more individual basis--not the blanket handouts and generalizations that occurred with Katrina.
Posted By Anonymous Brant, Madison, Wisconsin : 1:41 PM ET
Actually, Building codes have been steadily growing more restrictive not just in the last 20 years, but since their inception. Every time we have a disaster/malady of one kind or another, we learn important design and engineering principles about what constitutes "safety" in the built environment. Building code changes are then usually adapted by forward thinking municpalities or state agencies.

For the last 5+ years, the nation HAS been moving toward a more uniform building code-- the International Building Code is taking hold nationwide. So, a national building code is comning...(Of course quality & safety minded architects have been designing this way for decades --but one has to get property owners and Contractors to cooperate in the vision & implementation.

However, it is big corporate developers/construction companies, money influenced law makers and other municipal & state bureaucracies who are slowing the progression toward a safer National Building code. Stricter building codes that translate into added human safety often mean more cost to the builder/contractor and eventually to the consumer.

And any architect will tell you that in order for housing stock to become safer, you have to take the design & ENGINEERING out of the hands of people (contractors) w/ a financial interest to cut corners on material, fabrication, etc.. (That's where bldg. codes come in..)

Something like 90% of all housing built in the last 25 years in the USA was NOT designed by an architect.

Residential construction and design is given FAR LESS scrutiny (in the law and by government) than commercial construction. In an emergency, you are better off staying at work (or in school)than going home--when considering the sturdiness of the structure against natural AND man-made disasters.

For broader safety and well-being initiatives to occur (nationwide), we have to collectively put our money where our mouths (and hearts) are. One can say the same thing is true w/ respect to OTHER national health related issues (i.e. a national health care plan for citizens).
Posted By Anonymous S.Grant, Chicago, IL : 2:13 PM ET
I moved from Windsor, Ontario to British Columbia in 1974 when I was in my 30's. I remember as a child the many tornado's we were in and to this day I remember the terror of my family trying to protect us children from danger. In 1946 I can remember driving down a main City thoroughfair and seeing nothing but a tent City. The houses were gone. I remember a tornado hitting our school and a little girls just new to Canada from Europe--after escaping the war, was screeming and terrified, trying to hide under her desk. She thought we were being bombed. What people who have never experienced tornados don't understand is that most of the time, by the time you know it's going to hit you---it's too late.
Posted By Anonymous Mary K. Keeley, Port Alberni,B.C. Canada : 2:29 PM ET
FEMA was established as a safety net for ALL Americans, regardless of race.
The idea that any opinion could link one race to abuse of FEMA is a scary indication of our country's polarization since the great Uniter took over. FEMA's duties are spelled out in the United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations. The law makes no distinction for "race" or "body counts." And most of FEMA's responsibilities were not carried out as prescribed by law in the aftermath of Katrina.
Posted By Anonymous Michael Smith, New Orleans : 2:30 PM ET
I live in Waveland, Mississippi and it hurts to see the footage of Tennessee. I now know something of how bewildered those people feel - suddenly everything is destroyed and gone and you can't even figure out where your house stood and there aren't even leaves on the trees that are left - a moonscape of rubble and heat. But a small message from the Gulf Coast - know that recovery comes, eventually. Set your chin, be tough Americans, look for signs, even if in the beginning it is only a sunflower growing in the debris. We forget how strong we are until we are tested. But we can be strong. We have to be.
Posted By Anonymous Jen, Waveland, Mississippi : 2:51 PM ET
Sometimes we do get storm warnings here in the midwest. Sometimes not. I was playing fetch with my dogs on a nice warm day. Minutes later the sky turned black, there was a screeching roar, and the hairs on my neck were standing up. We ran for the basement and were very lucky.

But there are drawbacks to living anywhere in the country. Ultimately we are all of us at the mercy of Nature.
Posted By Anonymous Linda, Wentzville, Missouri : 2:58 PM ET
Wind researchers are working on ways to deal with tornado damage, but it is impossible to completely prevent it. My hometown has a multistory office tower that is actually twisted slightly by the impact of a tornado. It took a long time to put that building back in service.
There are designs for "hardening" part of your house into a tornado shelter, using such things as cement filled cinder block walls anchored into a concrete slab. Those have been found to work. FEMA has photos on its website of some that survived the Oklahoma City twisters. That is the best that the average homeowner can do.
Posted By Anonymous Tom , Lubbock, Texas : 3:00 PM ET
Brant is right, and hopefully, so is Bekah. The American Red Cross in St. Louis has a great need for funding right now because of the rash of spring storms and the depth of need for emergency shelter in Eastern Missouri right now. It would be great for people to be moved by the personal tragedies of each of these quiet, rural families.
Posted By Anonymous Debbie, St. Louis, MO : 3:06 PM ET
Those homes were not made of solid brick. They were made of wood with layers of bricks outside just for appereance. Real solid brick homes will be able to resist wind damage
Posted By Anonymous Carlos Juarez, Austin Texas : 3:14 PM ET
Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone effected by these storms!! The Gulf Coast is praying for you!
Posted By Anonymous Kerri, Orange, Texas : 3:15 PM ET
S. Grant makes a good point, that storm-proof (or at least storm-resistant) homes will ultimately cost buyers more. That goes against the market preference for maximum square footage and "curb appeal" at minimum cost. Unfortunately many home buyers are reluctant to pay for features that don't make the home look more attractive or impressive. So that pretty-much leaves it up to the people who establish and enforce building codes.
Posted By Anonymous Jeff L, Rochester, Minnesota : 4:02 PM ET
On April 20, 2004, eight people were killed in Utica, Illinois, when the limestone tavern they had taken shelter in collapsed under the power of an F3 tornado. There is no truly safe place when a tornado strikes. Those who live in hurricane zones have the opportunity to take their loved ones and their valuables and move completely out of the hurricane's path days before it arrives. We here in tornado country do not have that luxury.
Posted By Anonymous Jane, LaSalle County, Illinois : 4:04 PM ET
I currently live in a mobile home and after last hurricane season, I have been whishing that I could live in a brick home. I have had rode two hurricanes out in a trailer and that is something I do not wish to do again. The bad weather that Tennesee just experienced has made me aware that it really doesn't matter if you have a brick home. We simply can not stop mother nature. My Dad, whom lives in Gulfport, MS., just gave me some wonderful advice, and that is that the most important thing to remember is that we can not live in fear. So take it from my Dad who just had a really rough ride during Katrina.
Posted By Anonymous Nicole Sellers, Church Point, Louisiana : 4:37 PM ET
Regarding building codes - no home can withstand a direct hit from a severe tornado. Interior rooms designed to be tornado-safe only provide protection against winds up to 250 mph. That said, building codes are still not where they need to be and good construction can help a home that is just outside the tornado's path survive.
Posted By Anonymous KH, High Point, NC : 4:56 PM ET
I grew up in both Newbern, TN and Dyersburg, TN. My mom lost two of her friends (an older married couple) to the tornadoes of Sunday night. Although I am 1200 miles away in New York, I feel the pain of my former neighbors and can't put into words the pain I feel not being able to be there to support them. Thank you for your coverage and support. Those people don't have much but at least they know they have your love.
Posted By Anonymous Brad Palmertree, New York, NY : 11:20 PM ET
As might be expected, the local news coverage here in Tennessee has given a lot of air time to the tornadoes we had Sunday night (63 at last count). The coverage began Monday morning at first light, and one thing I noticed was that people had already begun to rebuild their lives. Lots of chain saws and pickup trucks were busy. Not one time did I see anyone wring their hands and blame the government for not saving them, or not doing enough for them. Not one time did I hear anyone mention they wished FEMA, or any other organization would show up to give them handouts. They were too busy working to feel sorry for themselves. I suspect this is similar to the Gulf Coast, where hurricane Katrina really made landfall.
Posted By Anonymous Ronnie, Murfreesboro, Tn. : 1:23 PM ET
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