On October 12, 1962, the Pacific Northwest experienced arguably the most severe extratropical storm of the century. The Heuval family of Brush Prairie, Washington recalls this infamous cyclone and God‘s protection in the middle of it.
The storm hit only a few days after Jim Heuval’s sixth birthday, and he remembers that Mr. Christianson let their class out early. He skipped home happily in the swirling leaves to find that most of the rest of the family was home early that day too – Mom and Dad, Jim’s sisters Helen, Ruth and Nancy as well as his brother Bill. As Jim watched through the single pane windows; the trees in the woods below the house swayed in the ever increasing winds.
Bill Heuval remembers that day vividly. He was older, and at age 11 he had to ride the bus home from school. “I remember a tree had fallen down across the road,” Bill said, “and some woman came out screaming that a tree had fallen on her house and she was afraid there would be an electrical fire.” When he finally got home from school, Bill’s mother sent him down to the field to get a calf and put it in the barn, and on the way down he’d put his arms out and let the wind blow him across the field. “I was just having fun,” Bill said.
Back in the house, the black phone rang. The boys’ older brother Victor needed a ride home from a logging camp high up in the Cascade Mountains. Jim told us, “Minutes later, Dad was driving our Studebaker Scotsman with me as his sole passenger. Little did we realize, we were driving through one of the strongest storms to assail the Pacific Northwest in the 20th Century.”
To reach Victor, Jim’s father John Heuval had to drive across the Yale Bridge, a 300-foot steel span suspended from two 88 foot high towers 50 feet above the Lewis River. “I most vividly remember this portion of our journey,” Jim said, because the Yale Bridge, “was visibly rolling and swaying in the wind.” Yet, the Studebaker Scotsman made it across.
It was dark when they arrived at Victor’s boarding house. The three of them still had to turn around and drive back to the farm, a circuitous route through the howl of hurricane force winds, often through roadside fields to avoid fallen trees and power lines, taking care not to re-cross the Yale Bridge.
Back at the house, Bill remembers, “The house was shaking like a son of a gun, and the wind picked up gravel off the driveway and shattered the window on the front door of the house. I remember we were praying that God would keep the house on its foundations.” The old farmhouse they lived in was more than 80-years-old and had never been properly attached to its rock foundation. “The farmhouse was just resting on rock; there was no concrete … no hold down straps, that’s for sure,” Bill said. “I remember being on the floor praying and praying.”
God answered those prayers in tangible ways. When Dad, Jim and Victor got home, the entire outside of the house was visibly swaying with each gust of the deafening wind. Inside, the house, though, there was no movement. Jim said, “Dad parked close to the front door and carried me into the eerily swaying house. Inside, I could still hear loud cries of wind sweeping up the side of the hill and slamming the side of the house, yet there was no interior movement of the walls – no vibration, nothing!”
When the storm was over, the Heuval family learned that their next-door neighbors’ entire garage had been picked up, carried 100 feet, and dumped over upside down in their front yard. The biggest fir tree on the Heuval land had been blown over, and they’d lost three huge locust trees around their house too. Yet, the Heuval farmhouse resting on its rock foundation hadn’t lost a shingle. “God miraculously kept the house on its foundations, and no trees fell on the house,” Bill said. “Most importantly,” said Jim, “God had protected us all.”
The 1999 Oshkosh Tornado:
Thousands of Pathfinder campers gathered for the annual worldwide Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in early August 1999. Laurian Garletts volunteered as one of the camp leaders that year, and she remembers that there were, “bazillions of kids.” There was also a terrible storm brewing. Laurian said:
“The tornado warnings kept going off, and we kept asking, ‘Do we need to take shelter?’ Which, there was no shelter because we were all in tents in a big field. The leaders were all trying to figure out what to do.”
Kathryn Styer was 15-years-old at the time, and she said, “I was deathly afraid of tornadoes.” She had always hated storms as a child because she feared there would be a tornado. Perhaps her phobia was influenced by The Wizard of Oz. “My mom loves that movie,” Kathryn said.
The storm that day in 1999 made a large impression on Kathryn. “There were tornado threats. I remember we were waiting to go to sleep in our tents, and we heard the sirens. The adults were worried, and we all got out and prayed. I was terrified, but I really felt peaceful praying, and I felt like God was going to protect us.”
In Laurian’s prayer group, she told everybody, “I think we should be praising God, like in the Bible. We should be praising God in advance for protection.” All the groups had formed prayer circles all around the camp.
Finally, somebody decided the campers should head for the airplane hangar near the airfield, but Laurian was skeptical, “I was thinking, ‘Oh great. Now instead of having tent pegs flying at us, we’ll have huge I-beams landing on us.’”
They faced real danger. The tornado was heading straight for the camp, and if it had hit, it would have ripped right through thousands campers. Instead, the tornado that had been heading toward them split in half and missed the camp altogether.
“It was the big news that week,” Laurian said. “The tornado came right at our camp, then split and went around and joined again on the other side. The satellites picked it up, and for the next few days the news kept replaying the satellite imagery over and over. We couldn’t see it from the center of the camp – the camp was huge – but there was devastation all around us. “
Kathryn said, “After the threat passed, the next morning when we woke up they told us what had happened. It was amazing. “
We asked, “Were you ever afraid of tornadoes after that?”
“No,” Kathryn said. “I wasn’t. It’s also a story that I can share with people who may not know God, because even if I don’t say that God did it, it’s just obvious.”
No matter what storm we are facing in our lives, we know that God is able to protect us through it and bring us safely to the other side. As Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” God never said our lives would be storm-free, but He did promise He would never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).