‘Were We Bombed?’ B&N Worker Shares What It Was Like When The Tornado Struck
EDITOR’S NOTE: Patrick Abdalla of Wilkes-Barre is a former Citizens’ Voice editor. He was working at Barnes & Noble in Wilkes-Barre Twp. on Wednesday night when the tornado struck. This is his story.
I crouched in front of the rack’s bottom shelf, searching for where the misplaced magazine belonged. The lights flickered. Not 20 minutes earlier, my last customer jumped when her phone chimed loudly, letting us both know that the weather could turn bad at any minute. She was long gone now, but my coworkers and I remained inside the store. “I guess this really is going to be a bad storm,” I thought.
Having spent more than a decade in newsrooms before going back to school so I can one day teach English, I knew storms could be serious business. But there was also a part of me that has been jaded by tornado warnings. Nothing bad is going to happen, I told myself. I’ve been working at Barnes & Noble a few nights a week since late last year. It’s a great gig. It has low stress, great coworkers and interesting discussions with customers.
We were winding down the store cleanup — straightening the shelves, putting things away, setting up the store for the morning — and lightning flashed outside. The power went out. I took out my phone and took a brief video of the storm. It was pretty intense. I realized we should back away from the windows. I took several steps back. The next few moments are blurry, but I was making my way toward the center of the store when I watched the side window blow in.
“Well, we’re not going to be open tomorrow.” Honest to God, that was the first thought that popped in my mind. I felt bad for whomever was going to have to clean that, but it was just a window. As I stared at the window I realized more than glass was blowing in. Thoughts raced through my mind. “That’s like a bomb. Were we bombed? Is everyone OK? Am I OK? Is that something floating through the sky out there? This has to be a tornado.”
I heard my coworker Mary Zultevicz call out my name as I turned to run to the breakroom in the back of the store. I don’t think I answered. I was dumbstruck. The back wall was gone. But that couldn’t be. There had to be a wall there. Walls don’t disappear.
Where the wall should be, however, were lightning flashes and pouring water. I saw things flying around. Pieces of the ceiling dangled from above. Suddenly, I wondered if the roof might fall in. Would I make it in time to get under one of the tables in the café and would they save me? Life did not flash before my eyes, but a dark series of thoughts did. Was I going to get out of here safely? I wondered, “Am I going to see the kids again? (My wife) Molly?”
It seems like all this happened in minutes, but it was probably just a few seconds.
I said a few words that won’t get past the copy desk and answered finally Mary’s call. I couldn’t see Joe, the manager who was on duty, Mary, or either of the women who worked in the café Wednesday night.
Suddenly, I saw Joe. We were all walking around. I called 911 while he called our store manager. I don’t think anyone knew what to do. The storm was still raging outside, but you could smell gas in the store. In my mind, we had to get out of the store, but I couldn’t tell how dangerous it was outside.
When we finally made it outside, we tried to race toward our cars. That’s when I was thankful I had been in the store. My car was trashed. Windows broken. Tires flat. One side practically caved in. Pretty soon, the first responders began to arrive.
I can’t tell this story without telling you how thankful I am for the first responders. As a journalist, I often admired them. I’m also incredibly thankful for the management at Barnes & Noble. They’ve been incredibly supportive and I’ll be forever grateful to my coworkers for how calm they were during the madness and how caring the managers have been. As I stood in the rain, I expected to see a familiar face. I had no doubt that some of my former colleagues from the Citizens’ Voice, as well as other area journalists, would be driving around, recording the moment. But we got out of there pretty quick, after cramming into a manager’s cozy car.
And I’m incredibly thankful to have woken up to see my wonderful wife, played catch with my son, watched my daughter run around her T-ball practice and held our baby as she squeezed my nose.