Carolyn Cloud-Diles said she told God, “I’m not ready to go yet” as she prayed and braced herself in a doorway while the April 10 tornado in Van Buren County ripped apart her home.
Cloud-Diles, 64, was the most severely injured of the four Van Buren County residents hurt in last year’s EF2-rated twister, Van Buren County Judge Roger Hooper said.
When the tornado blew her and her husband, A.C. Diles, out of their home, she was left with three broken vertebrae and two broken ribs along with multiple cuts and bruises. “I had a severe laceration on the head,” she said. Her husband also had multiple cuts and bruises.
“We were black head to toe,” she said.
Cloud-Diles said she and her husband were at their home near Botkinburg that afternoon watching the weather on television and saw a tornado heading toward Clinton.
“I texted a friend who works in Clinton and told her the tornado was coming her way and to be careful,” she said.
Cloud-Diles said her son in Marshall texted her and said they were “hunkered down.”
“I didn’t think it was coming our way,” she said.
“I turned to my husband and said, ‘Clinton doesn’t need another tornado.’”
The television reporter cautioned people, “If it gets really still, be careful,” she said.
It was raining hard at that time, but then the power went out.
“I made an assumption that [the tornado] was traveling in the same direction, but apparently it had changed direction and was coming our way.
“I grew up in Kansas, and a tornado had blown over our house when I was a teenager. You never think it’s going to happen to you.”
She said she started to look for the weather report on her iPhone, “and all of a sudden it started to blow, and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, wait a minute.’”
“I went into the shower stall, and I thought, ‘This is just fiberglass.’ … Later I saw it was completely destroyed. I just braced myself in a doorway, and my husband was in the little compartment by where the sink is,” she said.
“I just prayed, and I said, ‘Dear God, I’m not ready to go yet.’ I knew it was a tornado by then. I had never heard or seen or felt the wind blow that hard. I thought of my grandchildren,” Cloud-Diles said.
She thought of a good friend who survived the deadly 2008 Clinton tornado, riding it out in a dentist’s office that was destroyed.
“I thought, ‘People can survive this; people can survive this,’” she said.
“Then I could hear glass breaking; I could hear glass shattering everywhere. I could hear wood splintering and the roof tearing off of the house,” she said. “We had just gotten a new metal roof and new windows.
“You could see daylight where the walls of the bathroom were coming all the way apart and daylight was coming in. I thought, ‘Oh, we’re right in the middle of the tornado,’” she said.
“The next thing I know, we both woke up, and we were out in the yard lying on our backs,” she said. “The wind was still blowing, and I was saying, ‘Dear God, don’t let the trees fall on us.’ They were big trees, but they missed us.
“My husband said, ‘Are you there?’ It pushed us out, and the whole house was blown away,” she said. “Just the floor of the house was left — no walls, no studs, nothing. Except stuff. It was everywhere.”
She said a portion of a decorative rock wall left standing in the front of the house may have protected them from some of the airborne debris.
“There were large trees, blowing back toward us,” she said.
“I had my phone with me. Right before the tornado hit, I picked up my phone,” she said. Her husband saw it on the ground next to them and gave it to her.
“I called 911 and said I needed help, and they came right away. Right away, they were there,” Cloud-Diles said of the ambulance.
“They came running up in the yard, and they looked like they were scared to death. They had a horrified look on their face,” she said. “I couldn’t move. They tried to get me out; it took awhile, and it was still raining.
“They were wonderful,” she said of the emergency personnel.
Cloud-Diles said she and her husband were taken to the emergency room at Ozark Health in Clinton, and as luck would have it, an orthopedic surgeon was on duty.
She said her son drove from Marshall to check on her, frantic, not knowing what had happened to them.
“My poor son had to drive up to the tornado site. He saw the disaster of that, the church destroyed, … stuff everywhere, and other houses behind us were also damaged and destroyed,” she said.
“My other son came from Fayetteville. They got in the car and came right away, as did my husband’s daughter and granddaughters.
“People were calling them saying, ‘Your mom’s house is gone.’ They said, ‘No, no, it can’t be true.’”
Cloud-Diles spent three days in the hospital, and she praised the care she received there.
“They were very caring and compassionate. They helped me because I could not do anything for myself,” she said.
City and county officials came to visit her, including Hooper, she said.
“Everybody came in and peered at me. I think they were just checking on people’s injuries,” she said. “I was in a little bit of shock, I think.”
“She was still in the ER room when I went up to check on the people, and I met her husband,” Hooper said. “He took me back to the ER room, and we heard that she was getting stitches and so forth then. He was upset, but he was positive about her outcome.”
Hooper said that after seeing the couple’s home, he was surprised they survived.
“The next morning, I went out there and saw the destruction. It was flattened,” Hooper said.
When Cloud-Diles got out of the hospital, she and her husband went to a hotel.
“We stayed at the Best Western for several weeks; they were very nice to us,” she said.
Cloud-Diles, whose first husband died, is a retired elementary-school teacher and media specialist.
“I taught school in Alread in Van Buren County for 10 years, went to Japan for a few years and Germany for a few years, [then] came back and taught in Clinton and North Little Rock,” she said.
“We had very nice things in the house that we had acquired over in Europe and Japan,” she said.
Many of those possessions were destroyed or damaged.
“We had some family heirlooms, like a cradle that had been in my late husband’s family since the mid-1800s,” she said, and a dresser from the 1800s that was damaged.
“A friend is willing to help try to restore our family heirlooms,” she said.
“I had a baby grand piano, which I just loved — that got destroyed,” she said, adding that playing it was one of her favorite pastimes.
“We had a beautiful grandfather clock from Germany that was out by the highway. A newscaster said, ‘And time stood still.’”
Those were treasures, Cloud-Diles said, “but the best treasures are our lives and our families and our friends.”
She laughed at the juxtaposition that an old “easy chair” that her husband recently had remarked needed to be thrown out wasn’t touched by the tornado.
“It was still sitting in the same spot,” she said.
Many family photos were found, some 10 miles away from the couple’s home.
“Somebody recognized my husband,” she said, and returned the pictures. “That was something.
“We had lots of vehicles destroyed,” she said. “My husband had some he bought and had repaired and was going to sell.”
Marshall High School students helped clean up the couple’s property, as did many other volunteers.
“We did not rebuild. They are widening the highway there, and there’s going to be less property where that is; we’ll probably just sell that,” she said.
“My son said as they cleaned up for days and days, [volunteers would] say, ‘It’s a good thing nobody was home there.’ He’d say, ‘They were home.’”
The couple have since bought a “lovely new house where my husband has cattle,” she said.
The people selling it were moving from Van Buren County to Long Island, N.Y., and left some furniture.
“We moved in during the ice and snow storm in December — just made it in,” she said.
“We were able to walk into a house in the middle of an ice storm that even had place mats on the table and guest towels in the bathroom,” she said.
“We walked in and felt like we are in our new home. We count that as a blessing,” she said.
“We have a brand-new tornado shelter at our new house.”
Cloud-Diles said the area has experienced at least two severe-thunderstorm warnings since last year’s tornado.
“It was very frightening to me, and I’m really a little worried about this spring,” she said, despite tornado sirens nearby.
“I had lost some of my hearing from the tornado — from the air pressure. In the house we are in, there are sirens there, but I really can’t hear them. I have signed up for some text alerts. I’m hoping that that will work for me.
“I do have a big fear now, I noticed, if the wind blows just a little bit and it’s cloudy.
“I have a lot of respect for the power of Mother Nature now,” she said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.