Out of trying times come unexpected heroes, and from 11-year-old Nicholas Poisel of Cherokee Village came the strength to save his mother's life.
Although the day of Feb. 5 seemed like many others to Nicholas and his mother, they would soon be tested in ways they never expected.
Nicholas came home from school that day and began to carelessly rake leaves with his mother. Enjoying the warm afternoon, it took them awhile to realize that their stomachs had began to growl and hunger had settled upon them.
"Deciding to reward ourselves, it was a unanimous decision on where to eat: China House Buffet," Nancy Poisel, Nicholas' mother, explained.
Nancy quickly changed her clothes and she, Nicholas, and their dog Ginger jumped in the car, ready for a relaxing meal out. As they drove, they happily chatted about their favorite food on the buffet with no premonition of the devastating entity headed directly into their path.
"We were singing along to songs on the radio, we heard no mention of storm warnings," Nancy said.
Pulling into the China House Buffet parking lot, they noticed something was not quite right. All of the lights were out and it wasn't even 7 p.m.
"Certainly they aren't closed," Nancy calmly stated.
The two were slightly disappointed but soon began discussing where to go next.
"Suddenly, and no more than five seconds later, huge debris was flying towards the passenger side of the car at very high speeds," Nancy said. "Instinctively, Nicholas covered his head, and I tried to cover him with my body, but the seat belt prevented me from being able to."
The F-4 tornado had hit and the small car was trapped in its fury with no chance of escape.
"Glass exploded and the passenger door ripped-off as the car rocked a few times and was thrown on its side. The next second, the car was air borne and upside down over the highway," Nancy recalled.
The windows of the car had been blown out, and Nicholas helplessly dangled from his seat belt that held tightly to his neck. His feet hung out the hole where the passenger door once was.
The tornado had not yet released them from its grasp, and the car continued to twist and turn in the furious winds. The frightened occupants could only wait to see when the tornado would loosen its hold and where they would land.
"A flash of something large and black was accompanied by a deafening crash. This crushed the roof of (our car)," Nancy said. "My next memory is of Nicholas calling out to me."
"Mom you have to get out of the car!" Nicholas yelled through the torrential rains.
The car had finally came to a crashing stop across the road from the China House Buffet.
Although the car was partially crushed, Nicholas managed to get out of the seat belt that held him tightly in, and quickly grabbed Nancy's phone to dial 9-1-1. Nancy was confused and scared, but the bravery of her child gave her courage to put her fears aside.
"Although Nicholas physically helped get me out of the car, it was his voice and strict urging that gave me the strength to crawl out of the wreckage into the rain that directly followed the wind," Nancy explained.
Despite the rain, wind and debris, Nicholas ran to the road and flagged down a SUV with two unidentified men and three terrified children inside.
"Driving over power lines, we sought shelter under the bridge in Hardy along with other motorists," Nancy said.
After the chaos had subsided, the SUV transported Nancy and Nicholas to the local police station where they were taken to a hospital by ambulance.
"Shaken-up, hurt and thanking God to be alive, we realized Ginger, whom usually never leaves our side, had been nowhere to be seen after the crash," Nancy said. "Amazingly, Nicholas survived with only hundreds of tiny lacerations from broken glass on his face and arms and a large seat belt burn on his neck."
Nancy spent five days in the hospital and, once she returned home, has been carefully looked after by Nicholas. She suffered from several fractures and is now waiting for surgery on her shoulder.
Ginger, the family dog, was reunited with the Poisels soon after the tornado, thanks to a family friend.
As for Nicholas, he only wants to thank the ones who drove them to safety.
"He is doing well emotionally ... He is truly a compassionate and strong young man," Nancy said.
Although some might assume Nancy's opinion to be biased toward her son, most people would agree that Nicholas' fearless actions that trying day led him to become an unexpected hero.
From the editor:
I spoke with Nicholas shortly after reading a letter sent to Areawide Media by his mother. His level of maturity and his caring concern for his mother really impressed me. Nicholas told me it would be a long time before his mother recovers from her injuries. Nancy is truly blessed to have a son like Nicholas. We agree with her -- Nicholas is a hero. -EH