While many are still reeling from the devastation left by the March 19 tornado, stories of hope are emerging. One such story comes from JSU Scholarship Coordinator Mark du Pont, who remains positive even when recalling the experience that left him displaced from his home.
“The first day of spring break, Monday, several of us came to work,” Mark said. “It was a normal day for us. I came in about 8 o’clock and worked all day. When I left here, I went to the gas station and filled up my car because it was about on empty.”
After spending the first day of spring break on the job, Mark and his roommate, David, decided to spend the evening kicking back.
“I made a really nice dinner,” said the photographic artist and JSU alumnus. “I made steaks, home fries and all the trimmings.”
During dinner, Mark’s roommate, also an artist, kept going to the porch to check out the unusual conditions in the atmosphere.
“He had his cell phone camera up, taking pictures of the yellow and green in the sky and trying to catch the lightning, talking about how cool that was,” Mark recalled.
Then David’s comments turned to a question.
“He asked me, ‘How do you know a tornado is coming? Because they’re saying we’re under a tornado warning, but it’s really calm.’” Mark said. “I said, ‘Okay, that’s the first thing.’”
That’s when the EF3 made its way through Mark’s neighborhood.
“I heard that trademark sound, like a train,” Mark said. “I grabbed him (David) and said, ‘It’s time to go downstairs now.’ About 30 seconds after we made it downstairs, we heard a thud on the ceiling in the basement.”
When they felt it was safe to do so, the roommates went upstairs to see what caused that sound.
“The roof had come off the house and all the ceiling trusses had fallen into the house onto the floor – a lot of insulation, plywood, tar paper and I don’t know what else,” Mark said. “We realized we escaped that.”
A survey of their surroundings showed that the entire house was impacted by the tornado. The pair were also trapped by the collapsed ceiling, which blocked the front and side doors. So, they found a spot to figure things out.
“The only dry room was his (David’s) bedroom,” Mark said. “So, we sat in there.”
Not only were they trapped, but the roommates had limited communication with the outside world.
“People were calling us on our phones, but we couldn’t call out,” Mark said. “Every time somebody called, I said, ‘Go on Facebook and tell everyone that David and I are OK. Call so and so and tell them we’re OK.’ I finally got it posted out on Facebook to say, ‘We’re trapped in the house, but we’re fine.’”
At 1 a.m., the roommates finally freed themselves from the house.
“We went downstairs and forced the sliding glass door open and crawled through the trees that had come down to get out,” Mark said.
His stop at the gas station hours earlier proved to be the best thing he could have done.
“Because I had bought that full tank of gas that day, we sat down in my car, cranked the car, turned the heat on, and plugged my cell phone up to charge,” Mark said, explaining that downed trees had his car blocked in. “That’s where we stayed until 7:30 a.m.”
That’s when the pair got much needed help.
“A work crew came up there and saw that we were sitting in the car and couldn’t get out from the house,” Mark said. “So, they cut trees in the driveway to clear the way and let us get out.”
Like so many other displaced tornado victims, Mark and his roommate were taken in. The house they were working toward owning is a loss. Fortunately, they anticipate moving into an apartment in about a month.
“Over the last few days, we’ve gone back to the house,” Mark said. “Part of it’s still standing, and we got a few things out. But I think with both of us being artists with that reinvention kind of personality that we have, getting things out is not so important. We got our clothes, we got our dishes and kitchen things that we will need in the new apartment.”
Mark’s cameras and dark room where he processed black and white pictures from film are gone, as well as his roommate’s iPad used for graphic design. But he is still grateful to have what can’t be replaced.
“We still have our skills, and we still have our lives,” Mark said. “So, we’ll make new art, and I’ll still be here in the Scholarship Office. But we can’t mourn the house, because that was just a place to stay.”
Instead, he’s considering this a learning opportunity.
“I’m hoping that I can take a lesson away from this for my life that the important things are how I get along with people and what do I present to the world – what do I bring to the table?” Mark said. “All the stuff that was in the house was just stuff, and I’ll accumulate more stuff.”