So there's bad news, and then there's BAD NEWS. So much for turning 35.
The good news is, we're OK.
Here is the bad news:
This used to be our garage, by the way.
The tornado came through Wednesday night around 9 p.m. I was on the phone with my sister just before it happened, listening to the sirens and the hail fall on the house. Every time the sirens went off, we went down to the basement, and I kept an eye on the sky, as I always do during these storms, since I grew up in the Midwest and know how fast bad weather can turn nasty. But we still had power, and as long as you have power you don't think too much of the sirens.
At one point I'd come back upstairs and was looking out the window. There were green flashes of lightning to the southeast. That's not lightning, I thought. Those are transformers going down.
The power went out. Into the basement we went.
I heard a low rumbling sound, the kind you hear about but never think to hear yourself. It sounds less like a freight train and more like a big column of wind.
For a moment I looked out the window of the basement door and saw, over the top of the neighbor's roof, silhouetted by lightning, the funnel cloud coming toward the house.
We have two small rooms in our old basement, one under the kitchen we use to store paint. It has no windows, unlike the old coal room, so we grabbed the cats, shut the door and waited for the house to be removed from over our heads. And yes, I use the passive voice here deliberately.
It took about 20-30 seconds to happen altogether. The walls were shaking, and we could hear, in addition to the roar, crashing noises coming from overhead. Our ears popped from the sudden change in pressure. The cats mewled and panted around our feet, and then it was quiet.
There was broken glass and grit all over the living room,
and in the kitchen a plate had fallen from the dish rack onto the floor. Upstairs the windows in both closets had blown and and scattered bits of leaves and sticks and shingles into the house. On the front porch nearly every window was blown in and many of them lay broken on the floor. One of the big trees in the front yard lost a large branch that barely missed not only our house but the house just to the east of us:
Our garage and our neighbors' lay in the alley, but the cars were still there, sitting right where we'd left them:
We came outside to check on the neighbors and survey the damage. It was dark and we had no radio; power seemed to be out all over town, but the house was standing, and despite some broken windows, some minor roof damage and the garage, all we lost was our sense of invincibility in the face of nature.
We were one of the lucky ones, though. Our street looked like a bomb went off. There were crushed cars and downed trees everywhere. At one point I looked up into the bedroom of a house where the wall had fallen away and saw the back of someone's waterbed. The college kids who live at the end of the block were getting drunk and showing off the branch that had pierced their kitchen cabinets from the outside. But everyone was out checking on each other, and emergency crews were already out with chains saws trying to clear the roads of debris.
As far as we knew, the whole town was in the kind of shape we were in, and we were without a storm radio, so we went in search of friends and neighbors to make sure everyone was OK and see what the news was. There were rumors about what else had been destroyed, including, at one point, the unversity library, but that turned out to be false in the light of the next morning. Enough other things were destroyed, however.
In true tornado fashion, the damage goes in a nearly straight line from the southwest to the northeast, right through the middle of town, and stops not far from our house. The higher-elevation areas in town were hit harder than we were, which B and I saw the next day when we went out to scavenge food and news, but Iowa Avenue looks pretty bad and so does the College Green area, all places that we loved when we moved here and that will never be the same again.
Yesterday and today bands of volunteers have been through with chain saws to clear the streets well enough that you can drive down them, and this afternoon a man with a Bobcat cleared what's left of our garage out of the alley as well as the tree stumps and the neighbor's roof. We're waiting for the roofing guy to come by to check out the projectiles sticking out of our shingles, and the debris company to come by to clear off the garage, and we've boarded up the broken windows until we can figure out how to to replace the irreplaceable.
But we have power again. We still have a roof. All in all, it could have been much, much worse.