Temple's softball players were pressed up against the terminal windows at the St. Louis airport Friday night, gaping at the pitch-black sky and the kind of weather they never see in the Northeast.
Then a security guard started screaming that everybody needed to evacuate.
Players hurdled chairs as they were ushered downstairs to a baggage area, where the team huddled together for more than an hour, protected from the tornado that ravaged the city.
“We’re not used to that type of weather,” coach Joe DiPietro told the AP. “Thank goodness that glass didn't break.”
By Sunday morning -- in time for Easter -- the Owls were safe at home in North Philly, relieved and exhausted, after about 15 hours on an overnight bus trip.
“We’ve been on a bus since 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon,” DiPietro said after arriving back on North Broad Street.
“Yesterday morning I had to make a decision,” the coach said.
That decision was to drive half way across the country to be home in time for Easter or to wait on flights out of the crippled airport that might not have happened.
So the coach and officials hatched up a plan. He got the company that normally drives the St. Louis Cardinals to drive the Temple softball team to a Kmart parking lot in Cambridge, Ohio where Temple’s regular driver met them around 2:15 a.m. Sunday and drove them the rest of the way.
It was the right decision. If the Owls had waited for a flight, they probably would've been stranded in St. Louis until Tuesday with no clothes and no meal money.
Tuesday is when they're scheduled to play again -- against cross-town rival Saint Joseph's, which was also in St. Louis to play the Billikens and had to bus back. That is, if the game isn't rained out.
“It ended up working out and everyone was safe, which is the most important thing,” DiPietro said.
Temple was on the road for a pair of conference games against Saint Louis University on Thursday and Friday. After winning both, the team headed to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport for a flight back to Philly.
The gate agent was keeping everybody informed about the severe storms in the area, and for a while it just seemed like a fascinating lesson in Midwest weather. Their plane landed from its previous flight, and the agent said they'd probably board in about 20 minutes.
No passengers ever got on that plane, which was ripped from the jet bridge and turned to the side by winds estimated at more than 100 mph.
The 23 members of Temple's group were in a different terminal from the one where the tornado tore off part of the roof and blew out half of the large, plate-glass windows. Nobody from the team was injured. Their luggage, though, was soaking wet.
On a shuttle to a nearby hotel later Friday night, the Owls saw a flagpole that had been bent sideways and the damage to the main terminal.
“It looked like it was hit by a bomb,” DiPietro said. “The destruction was really bad.”
“We were lucky.”
Fan, follow and download: Get the latest from NBCPhiladelphia.com anytime, anywhere. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and NBC Philadelphia. Sign up for our breaking news newsletter. And, get breaking news delivered right to your mobile phone -- just text PHIBREAKING to 639710 to sign up. (Message and data rates may apply.)