As most people are aware by now, massive storm cells moved through the Midwest over the weekend, destroying thousands of homes, hundreds of businesses, and even taking the lives of almost a dozen people. One of the hardest hit places was southern Illinois and Indiana where an EF-4 tornado ripped through some small towns including Washington...there is nothing left.
Even up in my own comfortable corner of Indiana just across the border from Chicago, IL, we got to see the effects of the hard rains, strong winds, and threats of tornadoes. Sunday started off as a great day to just lay on the couch and watch football. It turned into a day I won't soon forget.
I'm not trying to discount any of the damage and loss of life, injuries, and the like that occurred as a result of these storms. Our prayers and thoughts go out to everyone who was hammered by these storms. But I wanted to share an account of what my day was like in my own, dis-joined rambling kind of way.
Saturday night: We decide to sleep in the next morning because, well, we didn't have anything to do on Sunday.
Sunday AM: When we finally decided to roll out of bed, after taking care of the particulars, I do what I do every Sunday morning...checked my fantasy teams and made any necessary last minute adjustments.
Sunday AM later: We decided to go grab a late breakfast at a local family restaurant (where you get omelette's as big as your forearm). The sky to the southwest is beginning to look ominous.
Sunday Noonish: Our food arrives, the Bears game kicks off on the TV in the restaurant. The sky outside is now darkening at rapid speed as the clouds roll in from SW to NE.
Sunday Noon-thirty: We are slowly finishing breakfast when we notice that Soldier Field was being evacuated for safety reasons. Apparently the strong winds and lightning were too much to keep playing.
Sunday Noon-forty: The phone rings from a concern mother who urges their child and fearless boyfriend to retreat to the basement of their home posthaste. Their power has been out for almost 30 minutes and they are sure that ours will be as well. However, our current location is fully lit and quite comfortable in fact. The concerns are quickly poo-poo'd as another destination was scheduled for the morning...snacks from the grocery store must be obtained. The sky...oh, boy the sky.
Sunday 1pm: As we peruse the aisles of the local grocer, we suddenly hear what sounds like rocks, pelting aluminum siding. The winds outside howl as the rain mixed with some chunks of ice beat down on the building. We decide it's time to go and proceed to the self-checkout. As we clear the foyer area to the parking lot, we are surprised by the fact that the rain had stopped and the ground looked barely wet. At this point, the sky looked like a cross between dirty cobwebs and pea soup. We head for home (which is only about 1 mile away).
Sunday 1-twentyish: As we approach the halfway point to our domicile, the atmosphere instantly turns into what I can only describe as a monsoon meets a hurricane. The water was flying horizontally in all directions at the same time and the amount of sticks, leaves, and other loose debris mixed in made visibility less than zero. As we approach the municipal building (housing both the police and fire depts) traffic is stopped. No one wants to move because, well, no one can see. Then...nothing. Rain stops, wind dies down, visibility clears...but only for a moment. Just long enough for us to continue the 2000 feet to our street. Maybe this is worse than we thought??
Sunday 1-thirtyish: As we turn down our street, we are greeted with a continued onslaught of wind and rain. But more concerning, 20 feet in front of our house, a police car sits perpendicular to the road with it's lights flashing, indicating only one thing...Roadblock. We watch as he turns cars from the other direction away, making them, ironically enough, turn around using our driveway. As we approach, the officer puts up his hand indicating that we stop and turn around. I wind my window down and we both, in unison, shout "That's our house. Right there," as we point to the almost 100 year old 2-story. "Fine," the officer says, "I will let you in." He proceeds to move his vehicle and we are allowed to pull into our driveway. Why the roadblock, you ask? There was a downed power line, or so we thought within 15 feet of our house. As we stood and watched from the living room window, the neighbor nonchalantly walked down by the police car, reached down and picked up the potentially live wire, proceeded to spool it over his arm, and carried it back to his house, placing it beside the porch. Apparently, that wasn't a live one but rather a phone or cable line. Who does that, though?
Sunday 2-fifteenish: A crowd begins to gather on the neighboring houses porch, peering north up the street. We proceed to investigate on our own as there is nothing on TV now. There is nothing anywhere for that matter since the power is now out. As we get to a good position we can see emergency vehicles and barricades about forty feet or so up the street from our driveway. Further up the street you can see what looks like branches in the middle of the road. A tree had fallen across the road, smashing a car parked on the other side and tearing down the power lines on both sides of the street in the process. About a half dozen light poles were taken out as well and two transformers on the tops of each pole apparently burst into flames, but were quickly distinguished by the gusts of water pounding into them. Yeah, I'm thinking this is worse than we thought.
Sunday 4-ish: After going back and forth with what we should do next, we finally decide to go to the shed to retrieve the small gas-powered generator so that we can at least get the sump pump working and maybe power the fridge so we don't lose the food. We bring the surprisingly, light-weight machine close to the house, ground it with a metal stake that was already there, and proceed to fill it with gas. I check the oil, top it off, and we are in business. Or so I though. Choke-off, gas-on, ignition-on. But the rip-cord starter is doing nothing but breaking my shoulder. One pull, two pulls, ten pulls. Nothing. Twenty pulls, thirty pulls, wait, let me try...nothing. I retire to the house. We need another plan. 30 minutes later, no plan, I proceed to try again. Maybe that's all it needed, being rustled around out of it's tomb and drug across the yard. One pull, two pulls, ten pulls, fifteen frustratingly small but hard pulls. Nothing. Defeated, I return to the house and the safety of my couch.
Sunday 5-thirty-ish: Our phones are about dead now. We have no mobile chargers to use and our only option is to head out somewhere. Not in this town though. Where are we going to go? The next closest town with any sort of commercially based civilization is about 16 miles away. Well, that should give us plenty of time to charge two cell phones. Lets do it. Oh, wait. There is the neighbor. He is way more mechanically inclined than I. Let's see if he knows whats wrong with the generator. "It won't start, eh?" "Did you fill it with gas?" Of course we did. "Is the oil ok?" Yes, sir. "Did you kick it?" No but I will if you think it will help. "Give me a minute. I will be right back." A minute arrived and he returned with an aerosol can of, yep, you guessed it, starter fluid. Why didn't I think of that? One spray from the magic solution and BLAMO!!! It's purring like a kitten (a 3400 watt kitten).
Sunday 6-thirty-ish: After getting everything plugged in, making sure the frozen food was still frozen, the fridge food was still icy cold, and emptying the sump three or four times (rain water run off from the yard and around the foundation of the house drains into our sump), we make our way to the car. Remember, we had to charge our phones. Off we go toward retail central.
Sunday 8-ish: We finally return home to a dark house, a dark street, and a dark neighborhood. The sound of generators all around was humming like a pack of wild animals. With a charged phone, I check the utility company website for outage information. Our town alone had almost 6000 customers without power. The total customers with outages was over 50,000 by 8:30. The ETA for returning power...not listed. This could be a long night.
Stay tuned for part 2