Tag Archives: Tornadoes

A miracle can weigh less than 3 pounds: the littlest Alabama tornado survivors

This is a story of miracles and heartbreak, joy and sadness. This is the story of the Weavers and the Weaver critters, who rode out one of the fierce Alabama tornadoes that touched down on April 27.

The Weavers lived in a pretty house in Alabama, a single-story home with enough room for a family of four, a dog, ten guinea pigs, ten rats, and a variety of critters who were lucky enough to be fostered by the Weavers while waiting for the right forever home.

Weaver Home

The Weaver's Alabama home, this past winter. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Marsha Weaver, a skilled craftswoman who dedicated her abilities to creating beautiful beds and hidey places for little critters, shared her sewing room with her guinea pigs and rats. Marsha sewed products for her shop, The Cozy Cavy, while the Weaver Pigs and the Weaver Ratties kept her company.

Marsha's Sewing Room

The Sewing Room and Little Critter Hub at the Weaver House. Look carefully - you can see guinea pigs in the cages, some pulling hay out of their haylofts. Marsha's sewing machines are in the background. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

There was almost no warning. The April 27 storm moved in to the Weaver neighborhood almost before it was reported. As the skies grew frighteningly dark and the rain pounded the roof, Marsha ushered her children and Shelby, the family dog, into the hallway. Her husband, Doug, skirted through the front door moments later. Before she could decide what to do about the littlest family members, the house began to shake. The house fell in, then pieces flew in the air. The Weavers felt the pull of the storm. Shelby, hovering off the floor, was anchored to her humans by her collar. It lasted for only moments; it lasted forever.

During a brief lull in the storm, they rose out of the wreckage and fled. Injured. Barefoot. Scared.

As reported in Friday’s post, Marsha, her daughter, and Shelby the dog suffered the greatest injuries. Marsha and her daughter were admitted to a nearby hospital. Shelby, whose face was severely injured by flying debris, endured four layers of stitches, administered by a vet working by flashlight.

Despite having their own injuries to tend to, the Weavers were heartsick over their littlest critters. Maybe, just maybe, some of them might have survived. Doug, the healthiest of the bunch, made his first search of the debris field that was once their home.

He found Emma, alive, hiding under a piece of Marsha’s fleece fabric.

Emma the guinea pig

Emma, the first guinea pig to be found alive after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Finding Emma alive brought the entire Weaver family hope. The members of the GuineaLynx community cheered. Thank God, we all said collectively. If there is one, there might be more. This sweet little sow who bossed the other girls around had beaten the odds.

When daylight broke, Doug got his first good look at the rubble that was once their home.

Weaver House After Tornado

The remains of the Weavers' Alabama home, after the tornado. Photo by Steve Weaver.

Pieces of their home and pieces of their lives were scattered all over the neighborhood. Marsha’s extensive collection of fabric hung from tree branches like the tattered flags.  He had found one pet alive. There might be more. He began to search.

By now, thousands of people, many of whom had never heard of the Weavers before, were following their story. Fingers crossed, prayers said, tears shed, well-wishers worried over the Weavers and their pets. The situation was made all the more agonizing as communication was delayed by spotty phone service and dying cell phone batteries.

The search continued as the Weavers and fellow rescuers sifting through the detritus.

More miracles.

Three more guinea pigs and three rats were found alive and relatively healthy, though scared and hungry. These little critters had taken shelter wherever they could find it, even in the branches and under the roots of fallen trees.

Holly, one of the newest Weaver Pigs, was so pleased to be found that she wheeked and wheeked hard enough to make her ears flap. Also found were the adorable but naughty little Allie-Belle, and Jasmine, a sweet little girl who found her way to the Weaver home through the Atlanta Metro Guinea Pig Rescue.

Holly, a guinea pig.

Holly, a guinea pig, was found alive after the April 27 tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.


Allie-Belle, a guinea pig, was found alive after the April 27 tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.


Jasmine, a guinea pig found alive after the April 27 tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Three of Marsha’s ratties, LuLu, Samantha, and Makayla, were also found, hungry and scared, but otherwise in good condition.

LuLu the rat

LuLu, a Weaver rat, was found alive after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Samantha the rat

Samantha, one of the Weaver rats, was found alive after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Makayla the rat

Makayla, one of the Weaver rats, was discovered alive after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Seven of the Weaver Pigs and Rats were healthy and accounted for, but the day was not without heartbreak. Hopkins, a senior at six years old, was critically injured. He was rushed to a vet, who humanely helped the poor old guinea pig earn his wings. Natasha, the Weavers’ nine-year-old granny pig, had also succumbed to the storm, as had seven-year-old Sherman and fun little Rose. Three rats – Annie, Devon, and Victoria – perished. The remains of two other pets – one guinea pig, one rat – could not be identified. One guinea pig and four rats were still missing.

Then another miracle: Wesley, an elderly three-year-old rat, was found, but traumatized and injured. He was not expected to make it through the night, but surprised everyone as he continued to fight for his life.

Wesley the rat

Wesley, a three-year-old rat, survived the storm. He is in critical condition. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Marsha was released from the hospital and joined her husband in the careful search. Meanwhile, news of the Weavers’ tragedy rippled through the communities of guinea pig owners, Cozy Cavy customers, and numerous small animal rescue organizations. Contributions poured in through the Sponsor a Guinea Pig web site, reaching $8,000 Saturday morning. Jubilation over the miracles was tempered by grief for the losses. Yet, the Weavers’ vet was so hopeful, she joined the search for the remaining missing animals.

Saturday morning, another miracle was announced. Another rattie, Olivia, had been found, scared and thirsty, but healthy.

Olivia, another Weaver Rat, was discovered more than 48 hours after the tornado. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

As the Weavers sorted through the remnants of their home, the mailman came. He noted the missing mailbox, then the missing house, then hand-delivered the mail to the Weavers. Another miracle.

One guinea pig and two of the Weaver Rats were still unaccounted for. All five of the foster rats were also missing, with no signs of them or their cage.

Marsha’s daughter, whose shoulder was broken and lung was punctured, was released from the hospital. Another miracle.

Throughout the entire ordeal, the GuineaLynx community remained glued to their computers and phones and iPads. The very few text messages that could work their way through the spotty cellular coverage offered Marsha and her family everyone’s love and support. We were so happy she had so many little critters left to cuddle, and glad that she at least knew others were at peace. We cried for those lost, we cried for those still missing.

Deep down, we knew such tragedy could have happened to any of us. We cuddled our own critters extra tight.

Unfortunately, the Weavers’ story is not unique. Many, many people across the south, and especially in Alabama, were devastated by the tornadoes on April 27. Many pets are out there, injured and scared, looking for owners; many owners are out there, injured and scared, looking for pets. Many rescues and organizations are posting information about lost and found pets and ways to give or receive assistance through a special facebook page.

And while there wasn’t enough time for the Weavers to fully engage in an emergency plan, their story made the rest of us pet owners realize how important it is to have one. FEMA offers some basic ideas for how to develop one.

For the Weavers, the story is just beginning. And as I posted on Friday, despite the horrible loss, there is hope. There are amazing people in the world who will reach out and help others in need. And there are little miracles.

Special thanks to Marsha’s sister, Marie, who joined the GuineaLynx community to keep Marsha’s GL friends updated on the search and recovery process. This post would not have been possible without her.

Please note: information in this blog may be adjusted for accuracy as information becomes available.

The story of a tornado, a family, a dog, rats, a herd of guinea pigs and an online community

“Did you see the facebook post about Marsha Weaver?” my husband called out of his office (junk room).

I opened my own laptop and scrolled through my facebook friends’ updates. Our friend Marsha Weaver’s house in Alabama had just been plowed under by a tornado.

When my husband and I adopted our first two guinea pigs in 2004, we joined GuineaLynx, an amazing online community of guinea pig owners and guinea pig rescuers. We discovered right away that this community wasn’t just about guinea pigs. It was a social hub. In addition to it being one of the few places where GP owners could seek advice on care for their animals, or post silly pictures of their pets, it was somewhere members could turn to for advice on pretty much anything. During the past six years, I’ve watched members comfort each other through deaths and divorce, cheer when members married, had children, or found new jobs. Even though most of us never met the other 12,000 members scattered across the globe, we knew each other, cared for each other, and cared for each other’s pets.

Even in that group of 12,000, there are those members who stand out, and Marsha Weaver is one of those members.

Marsha, like many other members of GL, is a strong believer in finding homes for abandoned or surrendered animals, and her herd of nine guinea pigs all found their way into her life through animal rescues and shelters. It has been said more than once that a shelter pig who finds his way into Marsha’s home hit the jackpot, because Weaver pigs live well. Big cages, fresh vegetables, fresh hay, lots of love. Marsha’s special gift is sewing, and she sewed beds and canopies and other beautiful things for her critters. She even set up an online store, The Cozy Cavy, where those of us with lesser needle-and-thread skills could purchase her products. Not to forget GPs in need, she donated supplies to animal shelters and rescue groups, too.

Marsha is also an amazing animal photographer, and took hundreds – thousands – of pictures of her pets, capturing their individual personalities. Many of her critters can be seen on her web page, modeling her wares.

So when news of the tornado spread across GuineaLynx and facebook, us GLers took it personally. She was one of ours, her pets were ours, and she was hurting. So were we.

The Weavers lived in a lovely house in Alabama. The house, built on a slab, included an entire beautiful room dedicated to the guinea pigs, rats, and Marsha’s sewing. The whole family, including Marsha’s husband, daughter, son, and the family dog, were all home Wednesday evening when the storm moved in.  With very little warning, the humans and the dog tried to make a dash for safety, hoping for the best.

When the tornado passed, the house was destroyed. Marsha’s heart was bruised, her daughter’s shoulder was broken and her lung was pierced. The dog’s face was badly injured, and their dog was expect to lose an eye. The vehicles were gone. But most painful of all, especially for her fellow guinea pigs friends, was knowing that the guinea pigs and rats couldn’t be saved. The Weaver pigs and rats were buried in the debris.

The story could have ended there, with all of us GLers shaking our heads, tears in our eyes.

Instead, we issued a battle cry. We would help. We would do something.

One of our members, GuineaPinny, ran Sponsor A Guinea Pig, a web site that raised funds for guinea pigs in need . After some brief discussion, we decided if there was ever a case for guinea pigs in need, this was it. Some of us had lived through fires, tornadoes, earthquakes. We knew how important it was to have cash on hand, even if you had decent homeowners insurance. We set the initial goal of $1,000.

And we watched a miracle unfold.

The goal was met within hours. As time passed and GLers around the world woke up and logged in, they saw the need and didn’t hesitate to help. As word spread, people who had never even heard of Marsha Weaver stepped forward. In just 24 hours, the gifts added up to more than $6,000, though I hesitate to even mention that amount, because the number continues to climb.

But it wasn’t enough for the members of GL. The community is planning a drive for clothing and supplies, when Marsha’s family is in a position to receive them. And other GLers in the area are hoping to gain access to her home, to try to find any pets that might have survived. Others are collecting photos she’s posted online to build her an album.

The story could have ended there, too. But luckily, it didn’t. Marsha’s sister joined the GL community after the tornado. It says something about what amazing people are in Marsha’s life, that her sister would take the time to update the GL community about her sister’s family.

Late last night, she posted some good news.

Marsha’s daughter was doing well enough to be taken off oxygen.

And Marsha’s husband happened to spot one of their guinea pigs in the debris. Emma was alive!

Emma the Guinea Pig

Emma the Guinea Pig. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Despite the horrible loss, there is hope. There are amazing people in the world who will reach out and help others in need. And there are little miracles. We all desperately hope some of the other critters survived. Because guinea pigs, like people, like online communities, are social. They need their herd to be at their best.

Severe weather and Kansas: be prepared!

I love the variety of Kansas weather, but even I would rather not see weather in all its forms happening at once. In my little chunk of central Kansas, we experienced 60-degree weather on Thursday; sleet, rain, thunder, freezing rain, and snow on Friday; freezing fog on Saturday; and thunderstorms and hail on Sunday. Still, we were fortunate; Lawrence experienced flooding, and Southeastern Kansas heard their tornado sirens go off Sunday afternoon.

Sunday's radar for Kansas, from the National Weather Service

With the last few days in mind, I highly encourage everyone – from die-hard Kansans to newbies experiencing their first Kansas summer – to take advantage of the free Storm Spotter Talks offered by the National Weather Service. In just a few hours, you’ll have a much better understanding of what it is you’re seeing on a weather map, and how to distinguish dangerous clouds from clouds that just look scary. Storm Spotter Talks are happening all over Kansas during the month of March. Did I mention they’re free?

If you can’t make it to a talk, take a look at the information the National Weather Service has put together for Severe Weather Awareness Week, which runs March 7-11, 2011. This page includes the basics of weather safety.

Big, rolling thunderstorms are one of my favorite natural occurrences in Kansas. Staying safe during a storm is even more important.

Go read this book now!

And Hell Followed With It: life and death in a Kansas Tornado by Bonar Menninger

Being both a weather junkie and Kansas history junkie, I scrambled to pull Bonar Menniger’s work off the new book cart at the public library. Beautifully printed, the book includes pages of award-winning photographs that ran in the Topeka Capital-Journal, and I would venture to guess that this book will serve as the definitive piece written on the F-5 tornado that hit Topeka in 1966.

Anyone who has read David Laskin’s account of The Children’s Blizzard already knows that the U.S.’s early track record with weather agencies was a little shaky. In those early days, there was a ban on issuing warnings for blizzards, hurricanes and tornadoes, out of fear of causing widespread panic – sometimes at the expense of the lives of the very people they didn’t want to worry. I could understand this misguided approach during a blizzard set in 1888.  What I found shocking was to discover that the reluctance to issue tornado warnings continued well into the middle of the 20th century.

For many Kansas towns, the wake-up call came when Udall was nearly annihilated by a tornado in 1955.  Meteorologists, city management officials and others realized they had to find ways to both proactively warn people of immediate danger and promote tornado preparedness through public education.  Topeka was at the forefront of developing a city-wide warning system and educating its citizens in what to do if a tornado approaches the city.

What Menninger does extremely well is interconnect the chaos of Topekans, the weather bureau, and a monster of a tornado into a chilling narrative that traces the tornado’s path over Burnett Mound and through the heart of Topeka, where it chewed through neighborhoods and destroyed most of Washburn University’s historic buildings. Having traveled to and through Topeka many times, I can’t tell you how unnerving it is to know areas I’ve passed by many times – including Burnett’s Mound, of which I new nothing before reading this book – were torn to shreds only a few decades ago. Chapter by chapter, Menninger follows the F-5’s trail, revealing its impact on a town that previously believed it was tornado-proof.

Menninger’s other great accomplishment was recreating Topeka in 1966. Readers will really get a feel for who lived there, where they worked, what they did. It is truly a snapshot – both before and after a tornado all but cut a city in half.

And Hell Followed With It is a worthy book about a moment in time that ultimately changed the way we handle weather emergencies. It’s also a pretty amazing story about survival and recovery. And Kansas. And tornadoes.  Go. Read it now.

And now I’m officially trained to spot weather

It’s hard to think about tornado season when the ground is still covered with snow and ice, but tonight my husband and I went to a Spotter Talk to become trained weather spotters.

Reasons to become a trained spotter:

May 4, 2003 tornado outbreak in Kansas City

The remnants of my godparents' son's house, hit during the May 4, 2003 tornado outbreak in the Kansas City metro area.

Aftermath of the Greensburg, Kansas tornado in 2007.

Aftermath of the Greensburg, Kansas tornado in 2007.

Kansas’ wide-open skies lend themselves to cloud watching. Yet there have been times, especially while on the road, 30 miles away from the nearest exit, when all I could see were dark clouds and I and had no idea whether or not I was in real danger. One summer, we learned the hard way that you can’t always count on the regular radio. Convinced we were seeing a wall cloud, we flipped through the radio stations as we barreled south down the Turnpike toward the Topeka exit. There were no news breaks or updates. Yet when we arrived at the Topeka rest station, other travelers were surfacing from the storm shelter because the sirens had sounded in Topeka.

I’m not likely to turn into one of those insane storm chasers driving right into a storm. But thanks to what I learned during tonight’s 90-minute presentation, you might see me safely driving away from one.