"Disaster Happens" Amherst County tornado survivor and first responder share preparedness tips with community

MADISON HEIGHTS, Va. (WDBJ7)-- People in Amherst County have some fresh experience to call upon as they get ready for Florence. A family who survived April's tornado shared disaster advice during a “Disaster Happens” session at Madison Heights Baptist Church.

The information meeting was scheduled months in advance, however organizers at MHBC say it couldn’t have come at a better time as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast.

"No one imagined ever that Elon would look like this,” said Leecy Fink as she scrolled through images of Nottaway Drive in mid-April. “That's an aerial view of my neighborhood,"

Nearly five months post-tornado, April 15th is a night Amherst County will never forget.

"Mundane boredom interrupted by sheer terror. And about 72 hours worth of work without rest to get it all started in the right direction,” said Sam Bryant, Director of Public Safety.

The families affected had minutes, in some cases seconds, to take action.

"No I didn't know what to do, but I learned a lot of lessons,” said Fink, whose home was destroyed in the tornado. “And I feel like I need to share those lessons with a lot of people."

Bryant and Fink took time to share their firsthand experience with the community Wednesday night.

"Prepare, prepare, prepare and practice,practice, practice,” said Fink.

Both Fink and Bryant learned things that apply to all disasters. Simple tips, like, wear shoes.

“If I would have had shoes on that night it would have made things so much easier for me,” said Fink.

To the more public safety oriented lessons, like better communication cross agencies.

"A set plan on how we're going to handle a swift water call on ops 4 channel versus a normal house fire that we're going to put on ops1," said Bryant.

They preached the importance of having a “go bag” and a plan. Put important documents in a safe and know your insurance policies.

"I knew who my insurance agent was so that was good. But other than that, I didn't know anything on my insurance policy. I thought I was well covered, but there were many things on my policy that I did not have,” said Fink.

Fink also advised printing out important phone numbers and putting them in backpacks of everyone in your family. Having a safe room is a big “must” for the Finks after the tornado.

As the team shared tips, there was a sense of urgency.

"Disaster preparedness is attitude. It can happen, it will happen. You have to have a plan,” said Bryant.

Because even with the best made plans, disasters still happen and it can be a long road ahead.

"I feel like it's not just preparing for a disaster, but recovering from it is just as much of the story,” said Fink. “Not being prepared makes it a lot harder.”

At the same time the “Disaster Happens” meeting was going on, Amherst County Public Safety was hosting a meeting to review the incident action plan for potential Hurricane Florence impacts. Even though the first responders have had a lot of practice dealing with disasters, they say a hurricane is a different storm and it’s not something they are taking lightly.