Monette generosity welcomed by tornado victims

Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Remains of Tony and Pam Snyder's home at Marmaduke, after the devistating tornado on April 2. (photo provided)

Tony and Pam Snyder, of Marmaduke, narrowly escaped death on April 2, as a devastating tornado swept through their community and completely demolished their home.

"True reality set in last week, as I filled out a form and I was to check one of three places....own home, rent, or homeless," Pam Snyder said. "It was so sad to have to check homeless. I found tears welling up in my eyes at the thought that we were indeed homeless."

The Snyders were listening to the weather forecast on television and were aware that storms were in the area. They had decided to stay home, as Tony had been to the dentist that day and wasn't feeling well. Their two sons, Craig, 13, and Shawn, 11, had gone to the storm shelter with their grandparents, Jim and Glenda Snyder, who lived nearby. Justin, 16, had been at a friend's house and had gone to Providence Missionary Baptist Church, two miles from their home, which had a basement.

"Pam and I had been out in the yard looking at the weather, and it looked very dark, so we went back in the house," Snyder said. "We continued watching the forecast on T.V., and it predicted that about 6:15 p.m. the storm was to hit Marmaduke. We had said if it got real bad we would take shelter under the bridge about 15 feet from our house.

"All of a sudden we heard this horrible roar, and Pam said 'that sound.' We had always heard that you would know a tornado by the sound, and sure enough we knew it was near. It was a horrible sound, much like the freight train everybody says it sounds like, only worse.

"We bolted out of the door and started to run for the bridge. Pam was dressed but I just had my pajama bottoms on and was barefooted. I didn't care at the time, as we knew we had to get out of that mobile home and try to run for it. I could see things flying through the air as we tried to make our way to the bridge. Pam fell in a hole, about three feet deep, and I fell in on top of her, then a big tree fell over us.

"We didn't realize it at the time but falling in that hole, with the tree over us, probably saved our lives. If we had continued on our planned path, we would have been swept away by the strong winds. The tree that fell over us was big, with a large root system. The roots kept it off us and provided safe protection underneath the bend. With that tree over us things did not land directly on us.

"I could see trees falling all around, and things being torn apart. Pam was at the bottom of the hole and had her face down in the dirt. I chose not to tell her what I was seeing, so she didn't know what was happening until after the storm."

"I was staying as close to the ground as I could," Pam Snyder said. "I was glad to be in that hole, and prayed that we wouldn't be blown away. I felt secure with Tony over me and waited for the tornado to blow over us.

"When the storm passed, we crawled out. We couldn't believe what we saw...our house was completely destroyed, with trees and debris on the ground everywhere. We did have 33 trees around our house, and only eight were left. As far as we could see, there was a long line of damage. Immediately our thoughts were of our boys and family. We knew Craig and Shawn would be okay, as they had gone to the storm shelter. We hoped and prayed that Justin was safe also and had taken shelter."

The Snyders walked around and looked at the ruins. They had no way to call out or leave, as both vehicles were damaged and phones were the last things on their mind in their flight for safety.

When the storm moved toward Marmaduke, Justin had gone to the family church, Providence Missionary Baptist, on Highway 34. He watched the storm from the front porch. Some damage was done to the church, but it stood fast.

"As soon as the storm passed I was concerned about Mom and Dad and our home," Justin said. "I got in my car and tried to get to them. Trees and stuff were all across the road. I got about a half mile to our home, and had to get out of my car and try to make it on foot. I topped the hill and looked out at where our house was and it was flattened, destroyed. I just knew that Mom and Dad were in it. I took off running toward the house."

"We had been trying to check on our neighbors and never dreamed that someone would come looking for us and think we were in the house," Pam Snyder said. "We saw someone running down the road, and it was Justin. We ran to meet him. We were all so glad to see each other, and hugged and hugged. Those were scary moments, not knowing how your loved ones are. After all is said and done, that is all that counts anyway."

The Snyders' shed was still intact, so they retrieved a chain saw and started trying to clear the road, so people could get in and out. They worked until about 1 a.m. that night clearing the road. They also had to find a way to get their gas and electricity shut off, along with their water, which was shooting sky high. Thoughts of salvaging a full freezer of meat and food had to be set aside, with no electricity available.

"My brother and sister-in-law topped the hill and saw our house and immediately she started throwing up," Pam Snyder said. "She just knew we were in it. I later looked back from the top of the hill and could imagine how they felt seeing all that damage and not knowing where we were.

"I thank God for letting me fall in that hole, with Tony close behind. I feel like he spared us that night. Through all this loss, we are all still alive, and feel very fortunate."

Soon the family members found each other. There were 30 or 40 friends and relatives working to help the Snyders salvage keepsakes from the fields and surrounding area. Their first night was spent at Mrs. Snyder's sister's house, but the next two nights they stayed at Mr. Snyder's parents' house nearby. Shelters had been set up town, but they chose not to go.

"My parents' house had been shifted on its foundation during the storm," Snyder said. "I watched from the hole as the storm picked up the mobile home and shook it like shaking a rag doll. The siding was peeled off a strip at a time, like peeling a banana. Even though the house was damaged, the bedroom was safe and dry, so Pam and I stayed there for two nights and worked on our property the following days. The boys stayed with friends and relatives. There were few places to go as there was so much damage everywhere."

"We lived about one mile off Highway 34," Mrs. Snyder said. "There were eight houses from our house to the highway, and now only three are standing."

Mr. Snyder works for Bollweevil Eradication, out of Osceola, and Mrs. Snyder is a teacher at Marmaduke pre-school. When he called his office, his company quickly secured him another company vehicle for use and found him a house in Monette. The house at 304 Dewey Street belongs to Otis Guiltner.

Bollweevil office personnel Judy Cobb Dudley and Cheryl Smith Edgin quickly organized an effort to help the Snyders with clothing and supplies, and to furnish the house. Juanita Kerr, with the Monette Samaritan Fund, had utilities turned on and contacted local churches, organizations and schools for help. Collection drop-off points were established at the Monette Housing Authority and city hall.

"There were not any houses left around Marmaduke to live in, and we were so happy to have a place for the five of us to all be together again," Mrs. Snyder said. "This house has four bedrooms and is very spacious. We couldn't believe the generosity of the people here. Before we knew it, the mayor had brought us an almost new washer and dryer, others brought a refrigerator, stove, table and chairs, two living room sets, end table and coffee table, a television, a king size and queen size bed, twin beds, mattresses, sheets, recliner, microwave, and so many nice things to help us set up housekeeping."

"The generosity of this town has been overwhelming," Mr. Snyder said. "All we have had to do is mention a need, and before we could turn around someone was bringing it to our door. Craig and Shawn have bikes now and are thrilled to be riding them around. We lived on gravel road number 503, about five miles from Marmaduke, and they think having pavement is wonderful. They have all been to the park and checked out the town."

"Monette is about the same size as Marmaduke, so we feel right at home," Mrs. Snyder said. "This has been a safe haven for us. On Wednesday we only had bare minimum stuff in here and made us a room to bed down in. Then on Thursday people started to come with furnishings. It is like Christmas, with people coming to the door with gifts, all day long.

"This is like a safe haven for us. For the first time since the storm we can look out of our windows and not see destruction. We can hear the birds singing, and children out playing. We are trying to forget the bad times and think of all the good things that have happened to us. We feel welcome here and our needs have been met in a generous way."

"We didn't have insurance on our house and didn't really know what we were going to do after our loss," Mr. Snyder said. "Now we have a house full of furnishings and vehicles again. We still have our jobs and are looking forward to starting over. We are debating whether to build a house on our farm or get another mobile home. The chances of this happening again would be almost impossible, and we felt safe in our mobile home before. However, we might consider installing a storm shelter. My parents had asked us about building one with them about two weeks before the storm, and we declined. This changes all that now."

"Marmaduke is in the process of getting classroom modules to provide space to start school again next week (April 17)," Mrs. Snyder said. "The kids will look forward to being back with their friends."

Mrs. Snyder is a Marmaduke native, her parents are Nelson and Ihrondia Carroll. Marmaduke has been the Snyders' home for over 17 years, as they will celebrate their 18th anniversary in January.

"It is amazing how things come back to life after tornado destruction," Mrs. Snyder said. "About 20 minutes after the storm our chickens and 60 baby chicks were out chirping and pecking around like nothing had happened. People were out looking for their loved ones, helping neighbors, and sharing what they had to share.

"We are starting over also, and just thankful to be alive. God has been good to us, and we have great hope that everything is going to be okay. This trauma restores your faith in human kindness and gets your priorities in order real quick."

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