Opdyke tornado. (Courtesy viewer Dennis Fick)
By Kasey Joyce
Opdyke, IL (KSDK) - It was a close call. A charter bus packed with a children's choir group narrowly escaped last month's tornado in Opdyke, Illinois. And it's all thanks to a quick thinking bus driver and his dispatcher.
"We got lucky, yeah, we got pretty lucky," said Gem transportation driver Greg Melvin.
Melvin doesn't usually rely on luck as a charter bus driver, but he needed it on Friday, March 30.
"I saw a super cell forming on my left," Melvin said. "There was nowhere to go. I had 13 miles before the next exit. I could either keep going or pull off and go backwards to an exit."
Luckily for Melvin, he had dispatcher Erica Ell on the other end of his walkie-talkie.
"Greg had called in and said that he had hit some rough weather," Ell said. "That's when he asked if I could pull everything up and see what was going on."
When Ell pulled up the radar, she knew he was in trouble.
"When I found out where he was, I realized he was about to hit it head on," Ell said.
"She told me to slow down, slow down, slow down," Melvin recalled. "And as the storm was crossing the highway, she said go faster, go faster, go faster."
And only seconds later, Melvin noticed something out of the corner of his eye.
"I got on my microphone as we drove past it and said ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your left, you'll see a tornado," Melvin said.
The tornado touched down in Jefferson County, Illinois, killing one and sending two others to the hospital.
Without Ell's help, the casualties could have been much worse.
"I hadn't realized that it was a group of kids that he had on the bus," Ell said. "I just knew I had to get him and his group out of harm's way."
"I don't think we would have survived," Melvin said. "Going at my current speed, we would have hit that tornado dead on."
So this time, Melvin says he's glad he had luck, and Ell, on his side.
No one on the bus was injured, and the group continued on their singing tour before returning to St. Louis a few days ago.