Couple escapes brush with Branson twister



Last week?s tornado in Branson, Mo., might pale in comparison to some of the more deadly storms in recent months, but for one Hillsboro couple, their Leap Year Day won?t soon be forgotten.

Marvin and Elfrieda Funk said their plans were to spend three days in Branson to visit friends, see the Titanic Museum and enjoy time together.

What they didn?t plan on was their hotel, the Hilton, taking a direct hit from a tornado at about 1:30 a.m. on the last night of their mini-vacation.

?Elfrieda woke up, but was getting ready to go back to bed when we both heard noise against the (hotel room) window,? Marvin said.

Not knowing exactly what the noise was, Marvin said he recalled the forecast was for possible rain showers and thought it could be hail against the window.

?Actually it was debris from the front of the tornado hitting the front of the window,? he said.

A few seconds later, he said, there was a ?kaboom,? sounding 10 times louder than a shot gun blast and their room window was shattered.

Elfrieda said she wasn?t sure if it imploded or exploded, but with the hotel almost entirely constructed of windows, there was glass everywhere.

It was also about then that the electricity went out and other than periodic lightening, the couple could hardly see anything.

?About that time,? Marvin said, ?the tornado passed, but we didn?t know it, and were grabbing up stuff to go downstairs.?

An automated message also came on from the hotel saying there was an emergency and everyone should go downstairs, but not use the elevators.

?I knew my shoes were close to the window,??Marvin said, ?and I started walking toward the window, but felt glass on my bare feet.?

He said he almost decided to go without shoes, but then saw another pair close by him.

Elfrieda said she found her ?slip-on shoes? and grabbed her purse while Marvin got his billfold and car keys and then they headed for the stairwell.

?Fortunately,? he said, ?the day before I noticed where the stairwell was, but Elfrieda found the doors to the stairwell.?

More problems

There were no exit lights, no lights at all guiding them safely down the stairs, she said.

As they started walking carefully down the dark unlit staircase, Elfrieda said, they encountered another danger.

?All of a sudden,? she said, ?water was coming down from above onto our heads, running down the steps and almost to the first floor.?

While others began joining them in the stairway, it wasn?t until they were near the first floor that a security guard with flashlight steered them the rest of the way to a safe place.

Once on the main floor, everyone started sitting in a hallway and, by then, hotel staff members were on hand.

?The first thing the staff did,? she said, ?was take inventory of everyone in the hallway and then they started sorting things out.?

Hotel staff began calling other hotels not hit by the tornado, she said, and they were told they would be taken to the Hampton Inn.

?We were told we could come back the next day for our stuff,? Marvin said, ?or they would ship it, but we stuck around because some of us had medication in the room.?

Hotel staff did go back and get medications for those who needed it, but Marvin said it took quite awhile.

From hallway to office

Elfrieda said that as more hotel guests made their way into the main floor hallway, the staff started moving others into another room.

?Most of us were able to go into this work room behind the lobby,? she said, ?which had a copy machine and work cubicles.?

The next location for them was a lot better than the hallway, she said, because no water was dripping onto the ceiling tiles and then ?plopping down? on those seated.

?The lobby itself was two stories high,? Marvin said, ?and outside the front was all glass too.?

He said he noticed a revolving door was gone, pulled out from the building.

Electricity returns

About three hours after their nightmare started, Marvin said the electricity was restored.

?I noticed through an outside window that the power company was already there and one of the five elevators was working again.?

He said that hotel staff started taking guests up to their rooms to get their things, but it was a slow process.

Another concern the Funks had was whether their car was damaged. Marvin said it was parked almost one and a half blocks away, far enough away that the tornado didn?t hit it.

The problem, though, he said, was that in order for them to move the car, they needed to get around all the debris and glass left in the wake of the tornado.

?The manager had one of the staff get the car for us and brought it down to us,? he said.

By the time they had their luggage and car, he said, the Hampton Inn was filled up, but they were routed to another hotel, but it was at the far west end and they were at the far east end.

?That was about 5 a.m.,? he said.

Once at the hotel, he said they slept awhile, but by 10 a.m. that morning, they were headed back to Hillsboro.

A lot of questions

Both Elfrieda and Marvin said they still have several questions they would like answered, but both are not sure if that will ever happen.

They also said they both are grateful to the manager and other hotel staff who helped them after the tornado happened.

?I want to know why no emergency lights were on,? Marvin said. ?Why no one knew (the tornado) was coming when the warning was issued to the town 25 minutes before it happened.?

Marvin also said he read on the Internet how one of the hotels actually had time to get everybody down into a shelter before the tornado hit.

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