"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Dinosaurs or Something"

Most people along the 21-mile stretch hit by that fearsome weather event yesterday have a storm story. Here's mine.

Early in the morning, hearing the forecast, I decided not to travel to the Big Lake. In retrospect, this is one of the wisest and safest decisions of my life. Had I followed my original plan, I would've been travelling on Route 28 at precisely the time the storm was leveling giant trees along that stretch.

By mid-morning I was on the telephone handling some diocesan matters, first with the Canon to the Ordinary and then our Canon for Stewardship. These conversations had a business and a social component.

Then I drifted downstairs to the computer, to deal with email and event-planning. The predicted rain was clearly on the way. I heard a bit of thunder and saw a few flashes of lightning, and my internet connection started failing (we get our high-speed via our satellite dish and it's dodgy in extremely low-cloud situtions.) I shut down the electronics.

Went upstairs and practiced the mandolin for a while, my beautiful Turlough O'Carolan piece. By this time the rain was coming down--in buckets--and the winds were whipping. I got up to look out the window and saw the rain flattening the Queen Anne's lace in the garden.

I'm not exactly sure when the world went so dark, as that giant black-and-green cloud that everyone mentions passed over the Lodge. I remember that it was like nightfall outside--even darker than dusk--and quite dark inside the house where I didn't have lights on.

At that point, I didn't understand why.

When I laid aside my instrument, I went into the bedroom to do some tidying--probably between 11:45 and noontime. The local radio presenter broke into the Diana Rehm show and mentioned tornado warnings for "Barnstead and Alton" and that a possible tornado had struck along Route 4.

It was about time for the local noon newscast, so I turned on the bedroom television, primarily to see the Doppler radar so I could find out how close to our cottage the storm was passing. The news was already on and I learned the storm had been so very close to the Lodge.

That newscast lasted all day, till 6:30 p.m.

Our event was featured on the national news, near the opening of the news hole, prompting emails and phone calls from concerned friends.

This morning is sunny and clear, with a sky so beautifully blue that if I didn't know all that had happened, I wouldn't believe it. The newspaper pictures were as graphic and almost more chilling than the television footage, the articles contained quotes from friends and acquaintances--whose storm stories were truly alarming.

All morning long I've heard helicopters flying over the Lodge...a reminder that the storm's path was located just on the other side of our mountain. These choppers are carrying the Governor, who is doing another fly-over, presumably the experts from the National Weather Service, and others. I saw an orange one that looked like a medical air-lift or maybe it had simply been commandeered for another purpose.

The dogs aren't too keen on the choppers, they bark at the really loud ones.

About a dozen injured people had to seek treatment at local hospitals--cuts and abrasions mostly. There was a single fatality in a collapsed house, the grandmother of a 3-month old infant who survived, as did its grandfather.

The shelter at our local school has already been closed.

The clean-up is ongoing, and will be for days if not weeks. FEMA is making the necessary assessments of residences and businesses. Our U.S. Senators and Representatives promise to seek federal disaster aid. (I think we're still waiting for what was promised after the severe river floods of 2006 and 2007.)

Our neighbours on the Big Lake say the power was only off for a couple of hours, but the cable is still out. Considering the trials of other area residents, it's hardly worth mentioning.

Things that are worth mentioning:

"My wife looked outside and saw a giant, black funnel cloud...Half the house is gone. Another house is missing."

"Tornado...went right through the backyard...It was all leaves, like a wall of water with green specks in it."

"I grabbed what I could."

"We have 70-foot pines completely uprooted...The guy behind us, he's got a view of the mountains he's never had before."

"It sounded like two trains going by."

"All at once, the sky turned to a tinted blackish color. And from that color--it must have been a lot of rain--it just went pure white. I couldn't even see my porch from my door. I could just hear all the snapping. It sounded like something big was coming through the woods, like something you'd hear on TV, dinosaurs or something."

Too many lives irrevocably changed. So many properties damaged. Countless handsome and historic trees lost.

We'll get through this, of course. I have to believe it.

Hope is an evergreen, with deep, deep roots.

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