Jeri Schey, 39, survivor of the F4 tornado that hit McDonald, Tenn. on April 27, 2011, killing 15 people, is eager to tell her story and to celebrate life. To mark the tornado’s anniversary she has planned a cleanup of the Gorton Pond shoreline this Saturday and is looking for volunteers.
Schey, who grew up in Warwick, never experienced a tornado until the day after Easter 2011, when she traveled to McDonald to visit her friends. Schey spent time with her friends and then stayed with Mary and Jared Bruckner, who was Schey’s college math professor at Atlantic Union College in Massachusetts. The Bruckners’ home was opened after the storm as a type of “headquarters” to those who needed shelter during this tornado.
On the morning of the tornado, Schey woke up at 8:30 a.m. It started to rain and thunder, and while she was watching the news with her friends there were constant alerts telling people to take shelter as soon as possible.
“We looked up at the sky and saw the tornado coming up the hill. After two or three minutes the power was cut,” Schey said.
The news alerted people that some areas in Tennessee were experiencing F5 tornadoes. The TV showed areas that were going to get hit by the tornado. All Schey kept hearing was, “It is coming right for us.”
The tornado hit the same day that an F5 tornado touched down at Tuscaloosa, Ala. F4 tornados have winds estimated at 206 to 260 miles per hour and F5 tornados have winds of 261 to 318 miles per hour.
Because of the Tuscaloosa storm, the damages caused in McDonald didn’t receive as much media attention. Schey and her friends took shelter immediately, staying in the basement at the Bruckners’.
“The tornado alerts and warnings left us in angst for about 12 hours. When the tornado hit, in just 30 seconds to a minute we started to feel our ears pop,” Schey said. “While everyone was in the Bruckners’ basement for shelter throughout the tornado, everyone helped each other, praying to God that this would end and no one would get hurt.”
“After the tornado, seeing all the houses gone and all the debris was devastating. Two houses across the street were absolutely gone and the other had to be demolished, which was more than $55,000 in damages. The house I stayed in was the least damaged house.” Schey said in tears.
“No one was able to sleep. It just shocked me that everyone was so focused on caring for other people and less worried about their own houses. I guess that’s just the Southern hospitality.” Schey said.
Fifteen people were killed in the McDonald tornado.
“I hated leaving because I just wanted to stay and help clean up. It was like a war zone.” Schey said.
Schey being legally blind and visually impaired, there was only so much she could do to help out. Schey, who now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from what occurred, has found a way to mark the storm’s anniversary. She contacted Michael Rooney, Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation Department in Warwick, who granted Schey the opportunity to clean Gorton Pond, stating it was a “great location to clean up.”
Schey wanted to symbolize cleaning up and to serve the community. So far, Schey has her twin sister, Heather, her sister’s boyfriend and her two friends helping with the cleanup. The Gorton Cleanup takes place Saturday, April 27 at 12:30 p.m. Volunteers are welcome.
“It’s important to me to help make such a very dark somewhat positive by serving our community,” Schey said. Schey has a Facebook page, “Clean up to commemorate my surviving an F4 tornado.”