Andy’s tornado terror

Joseph Bulmer

BIDEFORD councillor Andy Powell this week told of a terrifying journey in America amidst the tornadoes which tore through southern states, leaving at least 45 people dead.

Andy was returning from his third visit to North Carolina, where he has been taking part in archaeological digs in his bid to find evidence of the first British settlements and prove the part played by people from Bideford in the founding of America.

All his visits have been strangely dogged by natural disasters, but this one ended in terror. “I really feel that this time I cheated death,” he said.

After two weeks of successful digs with Professor Mark Horton and students from Bristol University, Andy stayed behind an extra day to visit Bideford’s twin town of Manteo, where the Bideford Youth Pipe Band was performing.

Over the weekend the tornadoes struck.

“I was told they usually have around 20 tornadoes during April, but in two days they had 62,” he said.

“Three people died within a mile of the local airport from where my journey home began. We set off in a twin turbo-prop plane with 58 passengers. The 35 minute flight to the main Newark Airport for the flight home took us two hours. We flew straight into the storm over Newark. We were told to strap ourselves in and hold on to everything that was dear. Our descent was at a 45 degree angle as we tried to get down and beat the storm. There was zero visibility, lighting was flashing and 70mph cross-winds were reported. My 16 stone frame was lifted from the seat, despite being strapped in.

“A moment that will remain in my mind is when one of the cabin crew leaned across and said in case he did not make it, did I know how to use the red escape handle? He was totally serious! The landing was hairy, but we made it down. When it was clear we were going to be OK and were taxiing on the runway there were 58 people clapping and cheering and it said a lot when the cabin crew joined in, too. The pilot was greeted like a local hero.”

Andy admits that he was shaking - but there was still more to come!

With his flight home from Newark then about to leave, he had no time to recover or think it through, but just joined the queue.

Within minutes of taking off there was a lightening strike, he said. “I saw it hit the wing of the plane. Everything went black and a cabin announcement was cut short. There was a total power failure. It was just a few seconds, but felt like an eternity. Then the lights came back on. There was still a terrifying silence before we heard the captain’s voice and then continued with our journey home.”

When Andy first visited North Carolina three years ago he was cut off and subjected to an emergency evacuation when the area was hit by a hurricane. Last year there was the volcanic ash incident from Iceland and he and his colleagues temporarily became the second ‘Lost Colony’ on the island of Hatteras when flights were cut off.

“I wonder if they are trying to tell me something,” said Andy.

But he will be going back. They had made such significant finds that they were already assured of American funding for next year, he said. They were also excited by the interest of the National Parks Service and hoped this would lead to them gaining permission to also dig on the island of Roanoke, the landing place of the legendary Lost Colony of 1587.