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What It's Like To Survive A Tornado


It's been a record-setting spring for storms across much of the country. Hundreds of tornadoes have hit the U.S. in just the past two weeks, including on Memorial Day, when one touched down near Dayton, Ohio. Cait Routson was in that one's path, and she joins us now.

Thank you so much for taking the time.

CAIT ROUTSON: Not a problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first of all, how is the cleanup and recovery going? What is your neighborhood looking like right now?

ROUTSON: Well, when it first happened, it looked like a war zone. Everything was just gone. Everything was in each other's yards. Everything looked like shrapnel and debris everywhere, but we're making some forward progress here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me your story. When did the tornado hit? Where were you? And how did you make it through?

ROUTSON: I was hanging out with my mom in her bedroom, and we were watching TV. And the news broke through that they had a bunch of bad storms coming into this area, and the storms kept getting closer and closer. Then our phones went off, saying tornado emergency. And then we decided to start getting the dogs down into the basement. I grabbed my service dog. And at that time, the power went out. And I knew we were in trouble, so I grabbed my 13-week-old St. Bernard pup. And I felt literally so bad. I had to throw him down a flight of steps and slam the door shut behind him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Could you hear anything?

ROUTSON: Yeah. It sounded like 10 freight trains on top of each other. It was the freakiest sound I've ever seen. And our bull mastiff was too scared from the sound to go down into the basement, so my mom and I threw ourselves on top of her and held on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then what happened?

ROUTSON: It lasted for maybe 10, 15 seconds. We hear glass breaking. We hear things crashing. It sounded like - basically, almost like bombs going off. Once it was all over, our neighbor was calling us, trying to make sure we're OK. Everyone was trying to get ahold of everybody. And then we came outside to see what happened. And it was just complete devastation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You must have been so scared.

ROUTSON: Yeah, it was terrifying. I thought our house was gone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should remind people that we're talking about unusual weather for Dayton. In fact, the city dismantled its siren system two decades ago. So what do your - you and your neighbors think about what happened; that it's an isolated incident or that it might be something else?

ROUTSON: Oh, we definitely think it's something else. We - there's got to be something else at work - I mean, climate change. You just don't have that many tornadoes pop up in Miami Valley and there not be something up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How are you doing now after such a terrifying event?

ROUTSON: We are trying to hang in there. We lost everything in the back of our house - our privacy fence, our chain link. We had a 15-foot patio awning. It - we have no idea where it is. Our shed's gone. Our roof's gone. Most of the windows in our house is gone. The front porch - it was closed in with glass. It's completely open to the world. I consider ourselves lucky though because we know people that - they may lose their house because it's been knocked off the foundation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, Cait, we wish you all the best. And we hope that you and all your neighbors recover soon.

ROUTSON: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Cait Routson, who lives in Old North Dayton, where a tornado hit on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.