Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Forever Changed

Just two weeks ago tomorrow, life as we know it in our neighborhood forever changed. Our town here in New England may be a little swampy with lots of mosquitos, but I always felt we were safe from all of the natural disasters that occur in other areas of the world....hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires......tornadoes. Wednesday, June 1st I was proved wrong, and the unthinkable happened.

The weather was stormy and I had heard that there was a tornado watch. Like everyone else around here, though, I didn't give it any real thought or concern. The whole family except Jack was on the other side of town enjoying Ben's guitar recital at a local nursing home. Jack was having a band practice, rehearsing for his own upcoming concert.

As Ben and the other guitar students were strumming away, the skies grew dark and there was thunder and lightning and hail. The power at the nursing home went out, but the generator kicked on. All was calm and the kids kept playing. Some of the guitar students' parents were whispering and checking their smart phones and I learned that a tornado was in our neighboring city. I tried to access the local news website and did confirm that a tornado had touched down. Still, I was in disbelief that it would come our way. Little did I know it actually had.

After the recital was over I got the kids in the car and nervously began the journey home. Chris drove ahead of me in his own car and called me to say that traffic was crazy and to take a different route. A friend texted me asking me if our house was okay and that she heard the tornado went through our neighborhood. I began to panic. Another friend then called me, yelling that our neighborhood was completely trashed from the tornado. He lives about a quarter mile away and had driven over to see what happened. I can't remember his words exactly, but I knew it was bad. Immediately I was concerned for my house and my dogs. I asked whether my house was okay and he said it was but the yard was a total mess.

We made it to the neighborhood but had to park a street over since the roads were all blocked from trees. Fire trucks were already on site from other towns. Chris had made it home and confirmed the house and dogs were okay but the damage to the neighborhood was unreal. The kids and I were just about on our street when some neighbors came running by and said they heard another tornado was coming and to seek shelter. The kids and I turned back and went into a neighbor's basement. More rain, wind, thunder and lightning, but no tornado.

Just about 7 pm I felt comfortable that the tornado warning had passed and the kids and I walked over to our street to see the fate of our neighborhood. This is the first picture I took....Chica walking with Grandma and Luke through our neighbor's driveway. I knew things were bad when the first thing I saw in the distance was my house. This wasn't even close to possible just two hours prior.

My first sight post tornado

The tornado uprooted and snapped every tree around us. Trees downed all power lines, landed on houses and across the street. My beautifully wooded neighborhood looked like a war zone. We walked in awe, looking at the damage. The kids and I were so happy to see the dogs...who were equally thrilled to have us home. We quickly surveyed the inside of the house. The dining room window had been broken by a fallen oak tree. Two second floor windows were broken. Since it was dusk and the power was out, we grabbed every candle we could find to prepare for the darkness. We had more rain and some thunder and lightening but somehow all managed to get to sleep eventually.

We awoke the next morning to gorgeous blue skies and cool, dry air. We made our way outside to get a good look at the mess the tornado had left. We all were pretty numb as we looked around at our new treeless landscape.

Four gigantic pine trees as well as an oak and a couple of maple trees were down in the front. Miraculously, the pines fell parallel to the house avoiding significant damage. The oak tree fell toward the house, damaging our gutters and siding and puncturing our dining room window with its tallest branches.

Both doorways in the front were practically covered in trees.

The rootballs from some of the trees left enormous craters in our yard and our neighbors yards.

My beautiful new driveway was damaged.

Half of the back yard was covered in multiple smaller oaks and maples which fell in our yard from our neighbor's yard and our back woods. Mother nature thankfully spared our pool.

The back woods which had been dense with trees looked a wreck, with snapped tree trunks everywhere.

The whole scene was almost too much to take. In one blink our wooded neighborhood had forever changed. It was overwhelming to even think of where to begin.

But somehow neighbors and friends began to show up and over the course of three days, all of the trees in the front yard were cut and moved to piles at the end of the yard. There were men with chainsaws everywhere....and other bodies moving branches.

All around the neighborhood people were helping people. Neighbors down the street who were unaffected by the tornado showed up to either cut or move branches. Friends dropped by coolers of water, beer, food, popsicles. The community response was amazing and heartwarming.

Miraculously, by midday Saturday we had our power restored. Since all the poles came down and the street was littered with tree trunks, we thought it would take over a week to get power back. The electric company's response was heroic.

On Sunday a crew of men we hired came and got to work on the back yard.

Men, chainsaws, a chipper and tractor......all day long.

By the end of day Sunday (day 4), our front and back yards were cleared of trees and brush.

Crews had been working all around town and we got the call Sunday night that the kids would be able to go school on Monday. And on Monday, trucks came and picked up our big pile of trees. We must have had 4 to 5 truck loads of our trees removed that day. We had a truck dedicated to our house almost the entire day.

I can still hardly believe this has happened. The numbness has finally started to wear away and the reality has set in. There are other areas of neighborhing cities where houses were reduced to piles of rubble. We are very thankful that our damage was minor in comparison and that our family and pets are safe. Although the massive change to our landscape and the long list of to-do's is completely overwhelming and admittedly depressing. It'll take time...but we'll get there.

I had snapped some photos a couple of years ago of our house from a few different angles. And I've taken updated photos after the tornado to show the change. The pictures still amaze me.

I never knew how much I appreciated our afternoon shade.

Safe. Thankful. Blessed.