"People were trying to come up to our window asking us for help, but we didn't know where our families were, so we had to find some way home,” McAllister said.
After a drive home that took the women two hours instead of 15 minutes, they finally reached McAllister’s home. Or what was left of it.
"We pulled up to where my house was supposed to be and there was just nothing, just nothing,” McAllister said. "Seeing my house gone, I thought I was the only one alive.”
It was only a matter of 10 minutes, McAllister said, between the time she and Herr arrived at the rubble that used to be her house and when she finally saw her family running at her down the street. Her sister and brother, flanked by her two dogs, ran to hug her and to reassure her that her parents were safe and helping their neighbors nearby out of the rubble.
"It was probably 10 minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime that I didn't know where they were," McAllister said. "Literally, you don't think about it, but when I went to the mall that day, that was all that I had. I didn't have anything."
McAllister’s family then stayed with the Herr’s for nine days, passing the time waiting out more severe weather, searching through the rubble and volunteering to help around town by bringing food and drink to people rebuilding and sorting through what was left of their homes. They stayed with McAllister's grandparents for three weeks afterward.
“All of our memories in that house were gone,” McAllister said, who had lived there since she was three years old. The tornado reached EF-5 status right as it passed over her house, she said.
Sorting through the rubble, the women found McAllister’s cat, still alive, and small belongings left over that they normally wouldn’t have been excited about, such as a baby doll.
But it was all they had left. As for clothes, those that were found were so ingrained with rubble it took dozens of washes to make them close to wearable again, and even then, many had to be tossed away. The time after the tornado was spent salvaging anything possible, from a few old pictures left behind to knobs that used to be on doors or dressers.
For Herr and McAllister, the stretch of time when they didn’t know if their families were alive affected them the most. The same question kept popping into their heads: What do you say to your best friend when her family is gone?
Luckily for both women and their families and relatives, that wasn’t the case.