Woman who left Hilo during eruption narrowly escapes massive Missouri tornado

Dodging the destruction: Former Hilo resident survives MO tornado

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A woman who was forced to leave her Hawaii Island rental home because of the damage it sustained during an earthquake last year has had another close call with Mother Nature.

Heather Gooch, who left Hilo to move back to Missouri during the height of the 2018 Kilauea eruption, spent Wednesday night huddled in home that barely survived a catastrophic tornado that touched down in Jefferson City.

Authorities are calling it a ‘mass casualty event’ ― at least three people were killed when the twister made landfall just before midnight, and weather officials say at least 13 tornadoes have touched down in Missouri in just the last 24 hours.

Gooch says it was one of the scariest moments of her life.

“I honestly thought I was not going to wake up to see tomorrow,” she told Hawaii News Now on Thursday.

The house Gooch was staying in survived the storm, but she was just steps away from the chaos.

A former Hawaii resident witnessed the destruction in Missouri overnight. (Photo: Heather Gooch)
A former Hawaii resident witnessed the destruction in Missouri overnight. (Photo: Heather Gooch)

“We stepped outside and saw the complete devastation, up and down the entire street where we were staying,” she said. “Windows blown out of other buildings, trees uprooted, you name it.”

It’s not the first time Gooch has been afraid for her life over the course of the past eighteen months. The wailing of sirens and emergency alerts in Missouri overnight felt a lot like those she heard on the morning of January 13, 2018 ― a morning she spent in Hawaii.

“For the residents of Hawaii who experienced the North Korea missile crisis, all I can say is that it was fairly similar to that," she said. "Knowing that my shelter was not too significant, but it’s all I had.”

Later that year, after her rental home was damaged in an earthquake as Kilauea rumbled, she decided to move back to Missouri because she couldn’t find another affordable option, given the housing crunch that followed last year’s eruption.

“I can’t really do anything but say that I’m blessed to not only get through the missile crisis, and the volcanic eruption last year, but now this tornado thing," Gooch said.

She was only visiting Jefferson City on Wednesday when the tornado hit; she actually lives a few miles away in Holt’s Summit, where a separate tornado touched down near her property.

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