Grant County Emergency Management Director Steve Braun created a YouTube video on the tornadoes that hit Platteville June 16, 2014.
The video, which can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExRNl5JPLrY, begins with 911 calls, including two calls from Josh Gates, the second pleading for an ambulance for his wife, Carrie, the most seriously injured victim of the tornado by far.
“We both cry every time we watch it,” said Josh.
Carrie Gates was blown out of her house by the EF-2 tornado, which ripped the house off its foundation. She ended up in the front yard of the house to the north, with two broken vertebrae in her spine, eight broken ribs, a gash in her shin, and numerous bruises, cuts and scrapes. The broken ribs caused both of her lungs to collapse.
One year later, Gates said she is “pretty good; still in physical therapy — I figure probably another year of doing that before I feel like I’m back to being quote-unquote normal.”
The message the Gateses pass to everyone they can is, in Josh’s words, “Thank you to the community for standing up behind us and for us.”
“They really stepped up and helped us when we needed it,” said Carrie.
Their attitude in spite of her injuries is in part thankfulness that her injuries weren’t fatal. Anyone who saw the Gates house immediately after the tornado (see photos, page 1B) probably had the same reaction Josh Gates had upon coming up to the house — “How could anyone survive that?”
Josh Gates was out storm-chasing, and saw the tornado go through Platteville’s southwest side before encountering either that tornado or another one south of the city.
“The one we saw, all of a sudden it was chasing us,” he said. They stopped at a house at East Side Road and Evergreen Road, whose owners confirmed that a tornado had gone by, and “That’s when we made a beeline to my house.”
Carrie was at home with their cats and their dog, Dexter.
“I remember the power went out, I was looking for candles to light, Dexter was next to me, and it felt like somebody yanked me back,” she said. “I got thrown about 200 feet to the neighbor’s yard.
“When you feel your head filling up with blood, you think it’s over. It’s not a good feeling.”
Getting Carrie to Southwest Health took a half-hour through downed lines and trees and extensive debris. Once there, she was transferred to UW Hospital in Madison by ambulance, not Med Flight helicopter because of severe weather.
“We had one hell of a ride,” said Josh. “We got north of Mineral Point, and we went from driving an ambulance to trying to maintain the ambulance.”
She was in the hospital almost a month before she was released. She said she returned home “just extremely feeling out of my element.” They had a new house, but their possessions were blown from the hillside just south of Harrison Park as far east and south as Hillside Cemetery.
“He was going to make a shadow box of my [wedding] dress, and it’s all gone,” she said. “It’s kind of sad sometimes depending on what it is. We’ve had to live with a lot less.”
Josh Gates described Braun as “a godsend. He had so much stuff donated, he got us discounts for stuff we needed to buy, so we could have a fully functional house for her to move back to.”
Gates has a titanium rod in her spine, and she said the broken ribs “changes how you feel.” She is seeing a spinal physician in July because her neck hasn’t progressed as much as doctors thought would happen.
The only medication she is taking is for muscle spasms. She was taken off painkillers three months after her injuries. “So that was lovely,” she said. “I’ve just really had to push through the pain on my own. I have good days and bad days; sometimes it’s hour to hour.
“My muscles go tight; they don’t want to release, and that’s where my struggles are.”
Perhaps ironically, she can now feel changes in the weather as a result of her injuries.
“I know I have trouble breathing, it’s not the same as it used to be, and I don’t know if it’ll get better,” she said. “It’s a very slow progression of building up my stamina. I wasn’t able to do a load of laundry; now I can do one load of laundry, but then I have to sit down for a while. I just have to pace myself.
“I’m so blessed I didn’t get paralyzed, or broken my leg or my arm. I’ve just had to work with my limitations now. I just can’t believe what the human body can go through, like I went through.”
Carrie worked part-time at the Bridal Boutique in downtown Platteville before the tornado. She has not worked since the tornado.
The Gateses went to Florida in January at the invitation of Josh’s grandparents. Their trip took them through Columbia, Miss., where four people died Dec. 23 after what Josh called a “much, much larger tornado than Platteville had. … No one had done much cleanup yet.”
This past weekend the Gateses moved to a new house on East Main Street.
“I’m really glad we’re down here in the lower apartment,” she said. “Wind is a big thing for me. And with it just grabbing me and taking me, I have some PTSD-like symptoms.”
The Gateses haven’t had to deal with severe weather yet. “It’s something I have to deal with, and I know I’ll have to deal with it a lot this summer,” she said.
Carrie has spent a lot of time talking to news media both after the tornado and in the weeks before the anniversary of the tornado.
“It’s been very therapeutic,” she said. “And that’s why I’ve been doing interviews and meeting people who were involved in helping me or had anything to do with it. We try to look at the positive, and now we can call them good friends — everybody that has stepped up and helped us, and they’re still helping us.
“I’m very lucky. I know I am.”