Locals dodge beach tornado

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2005

NAGS HEAD n Family vacations are a time to unwind from the rigors of life.

That's exactly what the Williams family of Ahoskie and the Byrum family of St. John were in the midst of here last week before Mother Nature paid an unwelcome visit. Their experience with the powers of nature left the families shaken, but at the same time they received an opportunity to learn more about their own emotions.

Shirley Williams and her family were joined by the Chester and Lori Byrum family for a week at a Nags Head oceanfront cottage. By all accounts, the week was splendid n a bit on the hot side, but that's to be expected in late July.

As their vacation week in the sand and sun was about to end, both families were in the process of winding down and thinking about the trip home when Mother Nature came calling.

According to Mrs. Williams, Friday, July 22 dawned just like any other day the families had witnessed during their week at the beach. The weather was hot, but a breeze off the water made it feel comfortable.

"We were on the oceanfront at the Nags Head Fishing Pier," Williams said. "My son was fishing about three-quarters of the way down the pier while my daughter was playing in the surf, jumping the waves as they came ashore. Other family members were shopping at the beachfront stores."

Williams was busy snapping photos of her kids when she first heard a deafening scream n ‘Oh my God, there's a tornado.'

"I immediately panicked when I turned and saw the tornado," Williams recalled. "I was close enough to get my daughter, Brooke, safely in my arms, but my son, Ryan, he's so far out on the pier."

Williams and her daughter screamed to get Ryan's attention, but to no avail. Meanwhile, others on the beach and the pier are scrambling to find safe shelter.

"There's nothing but pure adrenaline flowing at this time," Williams said. "Finally, Ryan knew what was happening and ran off the pier. He's yelling at me to hurry up and let's get out of here."

Somehow in her rush, Williams stopped long enough to snap a few pictures of the tornado n actually a water spout on the ocean at this time, but one that later made it to land.

"Brooke told me to forget that stuff and let's go," Williams said.

The threesome made it to their vehicle. As they reached the end of the parking lot, Williams noticed another smaller tornado forming. She again broke out her trusty camera and snapped off a few shots.

"We headed out in the opposite direction from where the tornados were," noted Williams. "The kids were encouraging me to go faster. It was at this time that I broke down from an emotional standpoint, realizing we had escaped a dangerous situation."

After making sure things were all clear, the family began a return trip to their cottage, which was in what she thought was the original path of the storm.

"I began trying to reach our other family members by cell phone, but the signal, I guess, was lost in the storm," Williams said.

Prior to arriving at the cottage, the skies opened up and let loose a deluge of rain.

"It was raining so hard I could hardly see the car in front of me," Williams recalled. "Also, the lightening was as sharp as I've ever seen it."

After taking what felt like forever to arrive back at the cottage, the threesome discovered no one at the residence except for a family friend, Howard Edwards.

"He told me he was napping until he heard the loudest noise he had ever heard," Williams said. "He said the windows in the cottage were whistling."

While Edwards attempted to tune in to weather information on the TV, Williams phoned her husband to inform him of the life-threatening situation the family had just gone through 25 minutes earlier. Little did she know that Mother Nature wasn't finished.

"All of a sudden, a sharp bolt of lightening followed instantly by a thunderous boom hit," Williams said. "Everyone screamed. All the lights went out and plaster started to fall from the ceiling. An overhead light fixture was hanging about halfway out of its socket."

Meanwhile, the Byrums were pulling into the cottage driveway at the precise moment the lightening struck. It startled them to the point where they just sat for a few moments before exiting their vehicle.

"They told me it was the scariest and loudest thing they had ever heard," Williams said.

Upon entering the cottage, the Byrums knew exactly where the lightening had struck n right where they were standing.

Lorie Byrum immediately called Emergency Services. Response came from the Nags Head Police and Fire Department, who were also busy answering other storm-related calls.

"They had stories of their own about the tornado, including watching it touch down on Jockey's Ridge," Williams said.

After checking out the cottage, fire officials deemed the structure safe. They recommended an electrician to restore the power.

Later, the families learned the tornado had passed a mere 300 yards behind the cottage.

"I'm just thankful to the good Lord that we are all okay," Williams said. "It could have been a much worse situation. I definitely appreciate the quick response of the Nags Head Fire Department, the electrician and whoever else had a hand helping us."

She added this was a vacation neither family would ever forget.

"It was quite an experience," Williams concluded. "I've always wondered what I would do if I saw a tornado headed my way. Now I know, I am a storm runner, not a storm chaser."