Tornado victim family reacts one week later

Injured mother, newborn baby doing fine

Tornado victim family reacts one week later

BELHAVEN - Ten minutes before the Van Essendelft's home was destroyed by an E-F 2 tornado, the family was home schooling in the living room. That's when the thunder and rain started. Five minutes after the tornado had passed, there wasn't a living room, or anything else, left.

The family of 9 is staying in a riverside home temporarily until they can clean up their old property that's littered with debris from the tornado. They welcomed baby Andrew into their family Saturday April 12.

All of them sat on a couch Thursday night and recounted what they remember about the brief moments before their house was uprooted, literally.

"The twins are having a little trouble sleeping," Mark Essendelft said. Mark is husband to Carla Van Essendelft and father to the six boys and one girl that make up his family. "But on the whole it's been really encouraging how they're handling it all."

Mark had just gotten off of the phone with his neighbor, Monday April 7, when he went outside to check on his barn. He heard the wind whipping up, went back outside, and saw the tornado minutes away from his home.

As fast as he could, Mark warned his neighbor of the danger and ran into his home, and told his family to make for the ditch.

His whole family was in the bathroom, trying to take cover in the tub.

All of them ran outside for the ditch. Hannah, ran deeper into the home. Her mother thinks Hannah wanted to get her shoes. Then nine-month-pregnant Carla grabbed Hannah, and ran for the ditch herself. She didn't make it.

"I was halfway and I started feeling the pressure and the air and the noise and everything," Carla said. "I was only about 20 feet from the house corner, and I was about 50 or 60 feet from the ditch. I knew I couldn't make it. I hunkered down on top of my daughter and I just started praying, 'lord save us, lord save us.'"

As Mark ran from the home holding one of their two two-year-old twin boys, he looked over his shoulder to see the tornado ripping his barn to pieces.

"When I got into the ditch, I was on top of Judah," Mark said. "When I looked up at the pecan tree, when I heard the tornado coming closer, when the wind hit the pecan tree, it just peeled the branches off."

Meanwhile, Carla and Hannah were both laying in the field.

"A tree fell next to me," Carla said. "Something smacked me in the back and the tree rolled over on me. I kind of tumbled with it. I was a little kid in the ocean waves... All of the sudden the tree was gone, I was laying pretty much where I started. My daughter was right beside me."

"I remember seeing our van tumbling," 9-year-old Josiah said. "I hunkered down because I didn't know what could happen if the van was flung through the air."

"I was hanging on to two little stubs of trees, and one of them got sucked up," said another young son, Daniel. "I thought I was going to be sucked up too because I felt the air pulling me."

Carla said the tree was then picked up and thrown through the air by the tornado. Mike didn't know Carla hadn't made it to the ditch.

"He didn't realize it and I'm glad he didn't because he would've potentially came back out after us and potentially gotten really hurt," Carla said.

Carla sustained minor injuries: bruises, cuts and muscle strains according to her doctors. She was taken to the doctor. At the time she was worried for her unborn baby's health.

"I felt the baby kick, and I was like 'Thank you lord,'" Carla said. "Then I knew the baby would be O.K., even if I went into labor, that it was fine."

The Van Essendelfts said the aftermath of the tornado was a bit surreal. The whole tornado seemed to last less than a minute. They're thankful for all of the help they received from firefighters, neighbors and doctors. The family is borrowing a car and home until they get permanent arrangements.

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