Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tornado, part 2

We went inside and Alex made us a late night snack.  I caught the end of Nightline. A local weather ticker flashed on top of the screen, announcing a severe thunderstorm warning for Cuyahoga and the surrounding counties. All told it was about a 25-mile radius around Cleveland -- a wide swath for storm activity. Rain rattled against the side of our house. Alex and I went out on our front porch to watch the weather as we often do. What began as a steady soak quickly accelerated into a violent downpour. Wind shook the trees on our tree lawn. I realized that the umbrella was up on our back deck. I ran through the house and out back to close it. Rain stung my neck and back as I shut the cranked closed the umbrella. A blinding burst of lightning signaled that it was time to go back in. As I reached for the back door a powerful gust nearly lifted me off the ground. I wrenched open the screen door. It tore from my grasp and slammed against the side of our house. I stammered inside and forced shut the back door. I caught a glimpse of Alex standing in the kitchen wide-eyed. All was noise, like the passing of a locomotive right over top of us. The lights flickered and went off. A tremendous crash sounded outside of the back door. I looked through the blind to see a limb from our centuries-old backyard maple, Broccoli, had snapped and dropped right where I had been standing on the deck. The view through the blind was that of leaves and wetness. Another loud crash, this time in the driveway.

“Should we get in the basement?” Alex yelled.

“Yes!”

We ran through the darkness into the basement, smashing heads together when we got there. The freight train had passed. We stood there for a few seconds before I ran up to landing to check the driveway through our side door. Again the view was consumed by leaves and branches and rain. Our cars were mere feet away but we could not see them through the debris.

“Did Broccoli fall?” Alex asked, terrified.

“I think so.”

I pictured the 100-foot tall tree smashed through the top of our house. Defying the storm, I sprinted upstairs. The second floor seemed okay so I went up to the attic. Shining my flashlight back in the eaves, I could see no pieces of Broccoli poking through. Imaging the thing falling at that moment, I doubled back down the stairs. I went into the living room and looked out the front window. Branches and leaves were strewn through the streets, filled with water gushing down. Alex called me to the kitchen window so we could look out over the driveway. We could see the tree limb had torn the gutter off of our neighbor Torry’s house and did some damage to a railing on her back porch.

Alex and I ran next door to check on Torry to make sure she was okay. We were relieved to see her answer the door, though she was quite shocked to see the damage to her house and her car. Now that we were outside, we could see that Alex’s car, a 2010 Chevy Cobalt was totally smashed. Several heavy limbs landed on the roof and hood, breaking all the windows and allowing the rain to leak in. Broccoli was still standing, though the wind had sheared off some of the limbs and caused damage. I tried to call 911 but it came back with a busy signal. I was not sure what 911 could do for us with our cars smashed by a fallen tree, but I needed to report the emergency somewhere. Alex broke down and cried while I stayed on hold with First Energy to report downed lines. Torry comforted her. I was lost in my own chaotic world. It did not help that we were still a little buzzed from the bourbon earlier. After sitting on hold for about an hour, I was able to reach someone at the power company to report the downed lines. By this time, the rain had let up significantly, but there were still eerie bursts of lighting that painted the landscape purple. In the distance, we could see smoke coming out of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, up on Detroit. Silhouetted intermittently by the lighting, fire fighters climbed up onto the roof.

Despite warnings from our neighbors two doors down, Alex and I risked live wires and traversed the short distance back to our house. The next day, we knew, would be to survey the damage and report it to our insurance company. We planned to awake at first light the next morning and take some pictures. Eventually we fell asleep, uneasily dreaming about the rest of Broccoli coming down on top of us.

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