Tornado hits Mullica Hill, New Jersey

A story from a survivor


On September 1st at 6:23 p.m., a tornado hit Mullica Hill, New Jersey. Mike, Dana, and their 9 year old daughter, Nina DeGrande, were all home when the sky darkened. 

Mike explained, “I think the first alert came on my phone about 20 minutes beforehand. I was working in the study. Dana said something about the tornado and that we should check our phones. I ignored it at first. Then we were watching the local news and it was saying the tornado was coming closer and heading to route 45 which is close to our house. The news said the tornado was coming to Mullica Hill at 6:21 and it was 6:19. We went downstairs and I opened the sliding glass door to let the air pass through the house. We then had about 30 seconds before the tornado hit.” Mike was not as worried about the tornado until the news said the tornado was coming right for them. Before the tornado hit, Dana could see the storm brewing up in the sky. Mike said, “It may have been 30 seconds. The power went out and the house was really shaking. We just kept saying we’re okay to Nina. All of our windows broke, but I never heard glass shatter. There were a lot of sounds and things hitting the house. You could smell the outside of the house from the inside of the basement because the tornado had ripped the roof off of our living room upstairs.” The tornado was very short. However, it was able to do a lot of damage in the short 30 seconds that it hit their house. Mike said, “None of the outdoor things got saved, such as the patio furniture and neither did any of the big pieces like couches and beds. We were able to save many of our clothes though. Not a lot of the electronics got saved except for my computer and our phones. When we got the weather report, I put my phone, keys, and my wallet in my pocket. Unfortunately, our TVs were gone. I was very fortunate to get a truck and a storage unit quickly. We saved a lot of decorations and photos and personal stuff. I kept all of our important stuff such as our home insurance policy and a key to the house, birth certificates, and passports, in a fireproof and waterproof bag, so I picked them up after the tornado.” The family was able to keep many of their things after the tornado. Sadly, many of their neighbors were not as lucky. “There are 26 houses in my development. Fourteen have been condemned for structural development. It’s quieter now because half of the neighborhood moved out. It’s eerie because all of the trees are gone. They are just stumps. Peoples’ roofs went through my yard creating a crater in the grass during the tornado. There are still people taking pictures of my neighborhood. A few of my closest neighbors’ houses completely failed, and they were able to keep nothing.” Mike, Dana, and Nina are very grateful for what they were able to save. For the neighbors that had no damage to their property, they are calling it “survival’s guilt” because they feel extremely bad for everyone who did get very affected by the storm. 

As soon as the tornado was done, everyone went into a state of shock. “None of us had shoes on so I went to the top of the basement steps and the door was stuck because there was part of a kids playhouse in our house blocking the door. I still don’t know who’s playhouse it was, but it wasn’t ours. I had to force the door open. Then I saw the glass on the floor and I put on sneakers that were in the basement. I noticed my neighbors house through the non-existent windows and saw it was completely gone. And went over to check it out, and another neighbor had already pulled them out of the rubble. I picked up Nina and had her close her eyes. I then carried her outside through the sliding glass doors because that was the only door that was working.” (Mike). Their neighbor’s house was completely gone. The tornado had really shaken up that part of the neighborhood. “A bunch of the neighbors met in the center of our complex and we were doing a headcount to make sure everyone got out of their houses. I carried Nina who was still not wearing shoes and brought her to our neighbors’ house. I ran back to the house to get clothes and stuff for my wife, Dana, and I, and Nina. I didn’t know how long the house would stay up so I wanted to get as much stuff as I could get out of the house before it collapsed. You could hear broken water pipes from the neighbors’ house and it was pouring rain. I packed things in pieces of luggage and then brought them to my neighbors’ house which we were going to stay at for the night. I got the generator out of my basement to bring to my neighbors’ house because his power was out as well. There were thunderstorms all night after the tornado.” (Mike). After the tornado was done, the storm still didn’t stop. They were lucky to be able to stay at one of their friends’ houses that wasn’t destroyed. “The very next day after the tornado, people were still having trouble getting in their houses. Later that day, a friend got a U-haul truck and they were able to salvage stuff from my house and other people’s. Local church groups gave food and gift cards. Boy scouts helped pick up debris from our yards. Everybody was a huge help. People donated bottles of water, snacks, food, and people came from out of state with construction equipment. The story is that people are good and people are great. That to me is the headline.” (Mike). It wasn’t just their friends that helped them out, it was the entire community. Everyone around them was coming to help those who were hit by the tornado and even people who didn’t live nearby were coming to help them. “People are very generous. It’s amazing. None of the government organizations were there. It was just people. People who wanted to help the community. Everyone was so willing to help, it was incredible. I got free pizza from Manco Manco which is a pizza restaurant in Ocean City, New Jersey. They brought thirty pizzas to my door. It was helpful, and it made me want to be a better person.” (Mike). The whole experience was eye-opening for Mike, Dana, and Nina. They have learned a lot about helping others and the community from people’s willingness to help. 

After a few days of staying at their friend’s house, they lived in a hotel for a week. “Now we are renting a townhome about fifteen minutes from the house and we are waiting to hear from the insurance company to rebuild our home. It could take at least a year or more to rebuild the house” (Mike). The family is secure now in their townhome. They have been through a lot and they were able to recover very quickly. With the help from their community, they were able to turn things around in a short amount of time and get their things organized. “It’s had a bigger impact on Nina than it has on me. It’s a lot more change for her. I’ve moved before. She hasn’t.” (Mike). Nina is adapting to her new home very quickly. A lot of her friends lived in the same neighborhood as her when the tornado hit, so she has a lot of people that can relate to her and make her feel safe.  

The family is still working through it. Although it was only a short time ago when the tornado happened, they did a lot to make life as close to normal as possible. They have all been affected by it and have a sense of respect now for something that they never thought would happen to their family.