Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An Ill Wind

At 1 a.m. on Friday, we woke up with terrible noises pounding on our roof and against the many windows. Wind and lightening were as bad as I could remember and the hail as large as I had ever seen. Not quite golf ball size nor was the hail covering the ground like some images I have seen on television reports—but as large as a quarter and as scary as I have experienced. Both Gerald and I were wide awake because of the noise, and we walked around looking out the windows and out at the sidewalk at the hail. Deciding there was nothing to do about it and observing that the house was withstanding the noisy attack, we went back to bed and slept soundly until the next morning when we finished packing and headed on our trip to Erin’s conference tourney at Oklahoma City. Everything looked great at Woodsong when we left at 8:30 after our breakfast.

In Missouri we drove through heavy rainfall for a long time and knew it was headed in the direction we had left. The first phone call came after lunch. Our next-door neighbor phoned to say there had been some high winds that blew a big tree down on their Katie’s play house and that we had some shingles off. Scott said not to worry he was checking the roof and if needed, he would patch it up so there’d be no leak in the house. We’d left garage windows open to keep garage cool, and Scott said the wind had evidently whipped in and bowed the garage door slightly behind our pickup—but nothing serious.

An hour or so later, our daughter Katherine phoned. She started out very calm thanking me for some help I’d given them during the week and saying they were enjoying the good leftovers of some food I’d brought. I was waiting to tell her the excitement about our roof damage. Before I had a chance and after she’d skillfully made sure that I was all calm and would be thinking everything was good with her family, she launched into the account of the inland hurricane that hit Southern Illinois. (Our neighbors had not been to town yet when they phoned about our roof.)

Katherine and her aide Beth had heard and watched one big tree after another at the park next door falling over. The master bedroom in their house was designed to look out on those beautiful trees—one of which was a huge fir and a favorite of her and Sam. (As he pointed out, it had been there outside his bedroom window through his entire life.) Windows on the other side of their bedroom look out on the back yard, which also has always been special with ancient trees both in their yard and on the city alley immediately behind their fence.

Although she and Beth went into their large windowless bath that accommodates her wheelchair, they could hear the trees falling one by one. The lovely old tree in the neighbor’s yard on the other side of the back yard came crashing down destroying their fence and the gazebo roof. The remainder of the tree is still hanging precariously there. The front yard had only one tree, and it was mangled so much that it had to be cut down today. Beth left to go pick up her daughters from school and had called a half hour later and was stranded by tree limbs and downed wires from reaching the school—ordinarily five minutes away. This much Katherine knew when she phoned, and our few missing shingles seemed tame in comparison.

Then the phone reports kept coming. Scott and Sonja drove to Marion, and were astounded to see all the destruction there and the big trees in Ray Fosse Park uprooted and on the ground. Our nephew’s wife working at Southern Illinois University Carbondale had been herded with other employees to the basement and could not believe the devastation when they were allowed to come back up. The softball coach at SIUC talked to our son and told about the many large old trees on campus being uprooted and lying on the ground. Evidently the ground was so saturated that the 120 mile per hour winds simply pushed the big trees over and their six-foot circumference root systems came out with the trees leaving behind a huge hole.

Many roads were not passable and Interstate 57 was closed that night because of the trees and limbs. A four-county area was without electricity and land phone service was no more. (Places to charge cell phones became very valuable. Towns affected have curfews yet tonight.) However, Scott was taking care of our roof and our daughter Mary Ellen and Brian and kids were going down on Saturday and they would hook up a generator for the fridge and freezer. David’s friend had loaned him and Katherine his generator, and Brian said he’d bring his down also.

Conference tourneys were not kind to “our” two teams. Seventh-ranked Georgia was upset by Tennessee in their first game on Thursday down in Knoxville, and they were, therefore, out of the tourney. Consequently, our son Gerry left to see a high school game in Dallas and another game in Oklahoma City, so we connected with him and he got to see Erin play with Texas A&M against Baylor on Saturday morning.

Since A&M had beaten Baylor twice during the season, we expected to play again at 5 that night and hoped to play for the championship after that. Not to be. A&M did not play their best, and Baylor beat us and we were out of the Big 12 Conference Tournament. None of us felt celebratory as we tried to console each other before Erin had to leave with the team for lunch. We did enjoy seeing D. J. Mathis pitch an inning on the field still playing around the corner. However, the next day Missouri put an end to our hopes if we could not win the conference that D.J. and Oklahoma would.

We had a lovely dinner down in Bricktown Saturday evening on an outdoor patio with Erin and with Gerry before he drove all night back to Dallas to catch a plane home to Atlanta. We kept congratulating Erin on making the Big 12’s first team as catcher, but she’d rather have beaten Baylor and stayed in town. She was to leave for College Station and her two remaining final exams at 6 a.m. the next morning. Nevertheless, we had a good visit and a good time with each other.

We went to bed early and left at 5:30 on Sunday morning dreading what we were going to find when we returned to the storm zone. A sweet older lady, who laughed a great deal, presented me and the other woman in their restaurant at breakfast with a carnation for Mother’s Day. Later I got Mother’s Day phone calls from the kids. We unexpectedly connected with Mary Ellen and Brian, Trent and Bri as they returned through Saint Louis after they had spent the weekend helping at our house and Katherine’s, so we had a fine 3 p.m. Mother’s Day dinner at the second restaurant we found next door to the first one we went to. (The first one was going to have a 45 minute wait.)

We shared and re-hashed all the stories Gerry and we had heard by phone about the hurricane and listened to the first-hand information from the Taylors. People were thinking it might be two weeks before all the power was back on. The talk did nothing to relieve our dread of having to see what was coming even though our house and Katherine and David’s house were both in good shape in comparison to the many that had a big tree land on their roof.

We were in Marion before dark and drove through the limbs lining the trees watching out low lines overhead. People took turns patiently where traffic lights did not work. As soon as we had checked on the Cedars, we came on to Woodsong, ate peanut butter and crackers for supper and sat on the deck until the outside light was gone. We went to bed in deep country darkness, and Gerald planned to reconnect the generator this morning.

Very soon the land phone rang. Our neighbor was telling us that our Rural Electric Association power was back on. Gerald turned on the main switches on the control panel in the garage that had to be turned off when the generator had been running for the freezers. He stayed up and I went back to bed after enjoying the electric lights that got me there instead of my flashlight.

Today the truncated newspaper, which had to be printed in Paducah, Kentucky, during the emergency, carried photos of the damage and of many of the volunteers and workers pouring in to help. Rather amazingly, it is being predicted most people will have electricity by midnight tomorrow. Feeding stations are set up in all the area towns, and there is a great deal of backyard grilling going on. David took Sam and Beth’s daughter Emily uptown and came home with tacos for all the gang as some establishments must have alternate generators. Gerald and David worked in the back yard wielding chain saws on all the fallen trees there. I cleaned off the bits and pieces of leaves beaten against the back windows as Mary Ellen had to do for our front door.

David’s workplace and the colleges and schools are all closed at least until Wednesday, and people are hard at work repairing damages. Today was beautiful, but rain is predicted. Most houses are just fine, which makes it especially painful when you see those that will never be livable again. We stopped at Kroger’s on our way out of town and a friend appeared just as I was leaving. She had come in to get repair supplies for her husband. “I need a hug,” she said. “My bed has a tree in it.”


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