Trucks shook, windows blown out: Huddled truckers survived

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 5/23/2011

Todd and Jamie Arnold had returned from the Flying J for only minutes when they heard the tornado warning crackling through their truck radio’s speakers.

“There is a tornado that has touched down in Joplin city,” the voice warned.

Seconds later, trash cans, building insulation and pieces of metal flew through the air. The Arnolds huddled in their lower bunk under a blanket.

A sound unlike any they’d ever heard – like a train “only much louder” – led to their truck shaking, then shaking harder.

“Oh my God!” Jamie yelled as Todd said Hail Mary prayers.

With the sound of shotgun blasts, both back bunk windows blew inward.

A few minutes later, the tornado had passed.

As the weekend’s burst of tornadoes hit Kansas, Missouri and Minneapolis, truckers huddled in terminals, truck stops and their bunks for one of the deadliest days of tornados to hit the United States.

The majority of OOIDA members and Land Line Magazine readers from the Joplin area, however, were hauling loads across the country.

OOIDA Member Bruce Benham was in Houston Sunday when he saw the news about tornadoes approaching the Midwest. He immediately called home, and talked by cell phone with two of his young adult daughters, who were swimming at a Joplin-area creek.

“I could hear the tornado in the background,” Bruce said. “They wound up finding cover and calling back.

“They said ‘there is so much devastation it’s unbelievable,’” Bruce recounted.

By early Monday, Bruce learned that his recent decision to move his immediate family to an apartment may have saved their lives.

The house the Benham family had lived in just three weeks earlier was leveled.

“It just goes to show you how the Lord works,” Bruce Benham said. “We had just moved into our apartment to save money.”

Benham didn’t get word that other members of his family were safe until Monday morning.

“I was pretty frantic,” Bruce said as he deadheaded back north to Missouri. “I could hardly sleep last night. That’s a real helpless feeling a driver has when you’re out there and something like that hits your family. You are totally helpless.”

Immediately after the tornado left the Joplin Flying J truck stop, other drivers walked around, knocking on doors to check on people’s safety. They saw that the truck stop, while still standing, was missing windows and much of its guts.

Fuel pumps had been ripped from the ground.

Trucks were smashed on top of other trucks, and boards and other debris were wedged into walls and truck and car bodies.

Jamie Arnold said some injuries were reported at the Flying J, but they had heard of no deaths when they pulled out early Monday to head to Fayetteville, AR.

Todd, a trucker for 20 years and native East Coaster from Sabattus, Maine, said being near a tornado was a first.

“And hopefully the last time,” he said.

Every time Sunday night’s winds whipped around the truck, Jamie woke up.

“There wasn’t much sleep happening,” she said.

Monday morning, the couple headed to Northwest Arkansas to drop off their load – on schedule.

“We are going to get to our delivery spot,” Jamie Arnold said.

OOIDA Member Scott Littlefield was in his truck when the tornado hit.

Scott’s wife, Vicki Littlefield, said Scott sustained cuts to his face when the tornadic winds ripped his side mirror and sent it through his window.

Scott was sleeping Monday afternoon after a chaotic 24 hours.

“It has been horrible,” Vicki Littlefield said.

Several OOIDA members, like Joplinites Dale Shaner and Ray Sanderlin, weren’t in town during the tornado but found out their properties weren’t hit, and their families were safe.

Shaner was on his way back to Joplin following Sunday’s major league baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals.

“It tore my brother’s little car apart, but he’s OK,” Shaner said. “He was at Walmart when it went down.”

OOIDA Member Jermey Jones of Joplin was headed north through Nebraska Monday when the tornado hit.

On Monday he pieced Sunday’s events together while driving through Wyoming, and apologized for not having much information to share.

“My family is OK,” Jones said. “That’s all that matters to me.”

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