If the Olympics awarded people for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Andrew Gregory would be a gold medalist.
The rural Wyoming husband and father still can’t work and continues to recover from injuries suffered June 23 when a large tornado brought an industrial coal mine service building on top of him.
The category EF2 twister plowed through the main staging area of the North Antelope Rochelle mine in northeast Wyoming. It was 6:07 p.m. and Gregory, along with an estimated 400-600 of his coworkers, were in a shift change at the time.
With almost no warning, Gregory said he quickly dove under a fuel truck for safety.
“I have never been so scared in my entire life,” Gregory told Cowboy State Daily from his home in Keeline, Wyoming, a small community between Douglas and Lusk about 110 miles southeast of the mine.
Gregory, 47, said he and a coworker found some defense under that fuel truck and that they “held on for dear life.”
After the powerful twister had passed, the mine’s staging area was in chaos and reminded Gregory of a war zone. Along with leveling the building, it flipped semitrailers and buses and took 12 rail cars of their track. It wrecked cars and pushed them around a parking lot. Utility poles toppled.
He suffered a significant injury to his right leg — at first doctors believed his femur was broken — and that entire side of his body was left bruised, swollen and Gregory was hardly able to move.
But he’s alive, along with all of his coworkers. Despite the potential for the tornado to be a major human tragedy, nobody died.
“It’s a miracle,” Gregory said.
At Which Point Is It More Than Bad Luck?
Gregory’s brushes with natural disasters began early in life growing up in Washington state. That’s when he suffered through the aftermath of the eruption of Mount St. Helens.
In 2001, he survived a powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake that shook up western Washington. It caused billions of dollars in damage.
Then just a couple of years ago in Wyoming, lightning struck the family's house.
It’s enough to make anybody wonder what the universe has against him.
Not Gregory. A man of strong faith, he said that he’s survived these close calls with Mother Nature’s fury are positive signs, not negative.
Instead of being discouraged by his close call, “I thank God for it,” he said. “I had just become a grandpa, my daughter had a baby on (June) 13th.”
He recalls scrambling out from under that fuel truck and, despite his injuries, looking around at the mayhem left behind and making a joke. He looked at a coworker and quipped, “This is what happens when you say God’s name in vain.”
Gregory said he would always playfully chide his coworkers about taking the Lord’s name in vain and couldn’t pass up the opportunity for the ultimate I-told-you-so.
Gregory’s wife Jennifer said enough is enough, and laid down the law during the pair's interview with Cowboy State Daily: “No more natural disasters for you.”
Several Minutes Of Terror
But before he could make that joke, Gregory said, he faced what he thought was his certain death. He could see it; he could hear its roar.
“We just got back at the end of the day and I was getting ready to request some time off because we’re doing the state fair with our food truck,” he said. “I was texting my wife and she said to be careful, that there were weather warnings out there.”
That’s when he noticed the storm system and immediately realized the danger.
“We seen it coming,” Gregory said. “All of the sudden you see the power lines go and were flashing. It took the power lines down.”
He said he and a lot of other coworkers retreated back into the fueling building.
“When they closed the doors, I ran back and tried to find somewhere to go, and I couldn’t find somewhere to go,” Gregory said. “That’s when the roof came down on us in the wash bay.”
The falling debris struck while he was making a break to hide under the fuel truck,
“When I was going to that semi, something hit me, and it hit me fast,” Gregory said. “I don’t know what it was, I just know that it hit me, and it hit me hard.”
Although in pain, Gregory said instinct took over.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life. It was so loud. All I could do was hold on for dear life,” he said. “I honestly thought that field truck was going to tip over. The only thing that saved me was there was 5,000 gallons of fuel on that truck weighing it down.”
After what Gregory said seemed like forever (but was actually probably just minutes), he crawl
ed out and expected to find the worst scene imaginable.
“When I climbed out of that truck, I was thinking the worst and that I was going to see bodies everywhere,” he said. “It was a straight miracle of God nobody died.”
All the while, Jennifer also was terrified. Not because a powerful tornado was bearing down on her, but because it was on her husband.
She couldn’t do anything and had lost contact with him after that last text before Gregory had to run for cover.
“I didn’t know what to do, I just freaked out,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “I knew the weather was bad over there. Then after I texted him, I didn’t hear back from him.
“Stuff was OK here (at home) and I was mowing the lawn, and I knew it was about time he was getting off work.”
After missing four calls from an unknown number, Jennifer said she finally decided to answer. It was her husband telling her he was alive.
“My gut just told me to answer this number,” she said. “All I heard was him saying a tornado hit the warehouse. ‘I’m OK, but a tornado hit the warehouse.’ I didn’t even recognize his voice. Then I got chills and I felt helpless.”
After that, the phone went dead, “and then I got really scared,” Jennifer said.
What followed was the longest 90 minutes of her life.
When she finally caught up with her husband at a hospital in Douglas, “it was just a sigh of relief to know he was still here with us,” she said. “He was just covered in dirt everywhere. He looked pretty rough.”
He felt pretty rough, and still does. Although no bones were broken and he was out of the hospital quickly, Gregory hasn’t been able to go back to work yet.
And the timing of missing a significant stretch on the job isn’t ideal for the family.
Gregory was new on the job at the coal mine, having been there only about six weeks before the tornado hit. He took the job after a rough patch running the family’s coffee business and food truck in Douglas.
He and Jennifer owned Blessed Beans coffee shop for about three years before competition cut too much into it and they had to shut it down. The food truck they’ve always had and took to special events has since become more of a financial focus. But until that takes off, Andrew has had to find other work.
“We were in a real bad spot and thought I’d just get on the job again,” he said.
Unable to work, the family is in a tough spot. A GoFundMe effort established after the tornado raised $1,170 of a $5,000 goal, and the Gregorys say they’re extremely grateful for everyone who has helped. Without that money, they wouldn’t have been able to keep a roof over their heads, the pair say.
But the campaign has stalled and Andrew’s still not cleared to work.
All money donated will go to covering the family’s rent and bills until he can return to working the mine and their food truck.
While that is a worry, both Andrew and Jennifer Gregory say money problems and other day-to-day worries seem less important now.
“I’m just so thankful God protected him, and everyone,” Jennifer said. “To think all those people there and there were not fatalities. At one point, there were 15 people missing, and they found them all.”
Despite the ordeal, Andrew said he’s optimistic.
“God always takes care of you,” he said. “I usually pray a lot, and that day I was in such bad shape I didn’t even have time to pray. But even when you’re not all together, God will take care of you. I really feel lucky.
“When I was at the hospital, I kept thinking about how close I came to not being here.”
Jennifer said she had the same thought, which gave her a sinking feeling.
“I can’t imagine life without him,” she said.