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Red Cross Volunteer Respond to Vinton Tornado

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"The American Red Cross and Salvation Army have been great,"

Around 5:00 in the morning of Sunday, July 17, 2016, Joe Radcliffe awoke to sound of rain outside his Vinton, Iowa apartment. A few minutes later, Radcliffe decided to get up and watch the storm. 

"I love to watch storms and I have always wanted to see a tornado," Radcliffe said. "But, not anymore."

Outside his window, he began seeing debris flying straight up in the air. He said it reminded him of a vacuum. Then, the power suddenly went out and the ceiling began to crumble. Radcliffe's instincts took over as he pushed his way through the debris and he tried to get inside the bathroom.

"By the time that it registered that it was a tornado, debris was already flying everywhere," Radcliffe said. "I was running through flying drywall trying to get to my bathroom." 

"The only thought I had was that I am going to die," he said. "I have done a lot of crazy things in my life and I kept telling myself I am not going down like this."

Radcliffe made it safely to the bathroom where he stayed until the storm passed. He described how quickly the tornado happened. 

"The wind was there and then it was gone," he said. "The whole thing only felt like a few minutes." 

"They always say a tornado sounds like a train," Radcliffe said. "But, it sounds like ten trains all going 1,000 miles per hour."

When it was quiet, Radcliffe went outside to see the destruction. He heard his neighbors calling out for help. Radcliffe and a friend, who also lived in the apartments, rushed over and knocked down the door to get them out.

"I have experienced fires, floods and now a tornado," he said. "The tornado, by far, has been the scariest."

The Imperial Apartment residents were taken to an emergency shelter at the high school that was set up by the American Red Cross. There, Radcliffe and the others were given a place to rest, food, blankets, comfort kits and financial assistance for their immediate needs.

"The American Red Cross and Salvation Army have been great," Radcliffe said.  "I have already been given [financial assistance]. 

Radcliffe said he was surprised how quickly the response happened. His mother had been a Red Cross volunteer for 30 years and he while he was used to being around similar situations, experiencing it had a whole different feeling.

Radcliffe said he was also thankful for the support of the community and how the disaster brought people together.

"People can be fighting, but when something like this happens it all gets put aside," he said.

Even in the midst of a tragedy, Radcliffe has been looking for the positive in each situation trying to make people laugh and smile at the shelter.

"There was no warning," Radcliffe said, but added with a smile, "I am glad to be alive."

The work of the Red Cross is made possible by the generosity of the American public. You can help people affected by disasters big and small by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables us to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters. You can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Your donation helps provide food, shelter and emotional support to those affected by disasters.