As we approached the 4th month post tornado here in Washington, I was starting to feel pretty good about where I was emotionally. It was becoming easier to pass through that spot on the main highway where the F4 ripped through our beautiful community and my thoughts turned to the the rest of the destruction zone. To this point, I had not yet ventured off the main road, but in the past couple of weeks I had thought of wanting to see it, thoughts of being ready to see it. So, on Saturday, I told the Hubs, “Take me in there, I’m ready to see what happened there. I NEED to see it.”
He took a left and rounded the corner into an area where friends lived. The first thing I noticed, 3 houses, one seemingly undisturbed, flanked on either side by houses with tarps and debris and dumpsters in the yard. One house, I think, used to have day care in it, though I can’t be sure because already, I am so disoriented. In the yard of the house that was whole, a for sale sign. I wondered how long they had been trying to sell and how long it would take before they had a buyer.
The Hubs maneuvered a curve and suddenly heavy destruction came into view. Without warning, sobs rose up from deep inside my chest, my heart began to race, anxiety choked my throat and I felt as if I have been kicked in the stomach. Where was this coming from? Tears began to flow as a panic washed over me. I had no idea where I was or what I was looking at.
The Hubs stopped in front of an empty foundation, the home of friends, but I still couldn’t wrap my head around where we were, the surroundings made no sense. Empty lots, shells of houses and empty foundations did not give me the familiar landmarks I needed to orient myself to this place.
I asked him to pull up a block and round the corner, where I was met with the sight of senior housing with broken windows and torn roofs, then onward another block to where my mother’s childhood friend used to live. I could not pinpoint where her house was exactly, the landmarks were gone. On one corner, a hole where a house and basement used to be, on another, brush and a foundation and mud…there was a lot of mud.
The Hub’s continued the drive, I am a sobbing mess at this point. I wanted to leave, but I still needed to understand. I was grateful I had not tried this myself. He showed me the house where he and the boy cleaned just a week after the tornado hit. I should have known the neighborhood, but again, I drive by landmarks, not street signs and I just couldn’t get oriented to save my life. Finally he winds around to my daughter’s friend’s house on Wellington. Their house remained standing, though it had been twisted off of it’s foundation on one corner and all of the windows and roof were severely damaged. On this day, workers were working on the house. New windows gleamed and the shell had well defined exterior walls and a roof now. It looked sturdy again. Progress. Hope.
I looked around at other, untouched houses on that street, their occupants outside cleaning up the yards after this long winter. I began to sob again, thinking about how these people have had to get up each morning in the midst of this battle zone to go to work, church, school. They are living in the middle of it all and have to get up and see it every day. How do they do it? I wanted to share this thought with the Hubs, but all I could squeak out amid the tears was, “Bless their hearts.” Truly.
At this point I felt I could take no more, but at this point we are in the middle of it all have more to go through before we can leave. As we moved through the next neighborhood and see more of the bazaar mixture of houses gone, houses damaged, and houses untouched, I start to think about why this is hitting me as hard as it is. I THOUGHT I was ready!
As I churned it all over in my head as best I could, I came to the conclusion that I don’t think you can’t ever really be ready to see destruction like that. The emotion of seeing the houses of friends destroyed, of being disoriented by the loss of landmarks, of trying to make sense of what you are seeing all piles up, and very quickly at that. It is overwhelming to say the least.
Later that day, I asked the Hubs to drive me back, not into the middle of it again, but the edges. I wanted pictures. I was already forming this post and I wanted a couple of pictures to help relate the work that still remains for my community, how far we have to go in the rebuilding process.
These are taken from Cruger Road, the point where the tornado began to leave our town, after tearing through from it’s furthest Southwest regions to it’s Northeast limits. It is only a small part of all that was torn up that day, and from a distance, but it’s enough to give you an idea I think.
If you have read this far and are looking for the point of this post, I’m sorry to have wasted your time. I don’t know that there is a lesson to learn here, no real wisdom to pass along. I simply had a need to share this experience with all of you. I realize how little I knew about tornadoes, their devastation and the recovery process, until now. Maybe there are others out there like me.
As I think back on the experience, I can see that I was lulled into thinking that I was ready because the blanket of snow that we had had up until then was covering up the wound. Now that he snow is gone, the wound is exposed again and I have no idea what I can do about it. That dreaded helpless feeling has returned.
But exposing the wound allows it to be assessed and permits healing, right? The hard winter we had immediately following this devastation has slowed down the progress my city might otherwise have made in rebuilding, but the bandage is off and we can begin cleaning up the wound and getting our families back home. My heart won’t stop aching until it is done.
In the coming months I will look for ways that I can be of use in the healing process. Clean up crews seem to be coming from out of town or out of state, it seems difficult for the average Washingtonian to find their place in the clean-up. I’ve called the volunteer hotline and I’ve sent emails out, but I’m told there is enough help for now, so I will wait.
I will hope for opportunities to help, and I will continue to pray. In the meantime, I will prepare my home and family for the coming storm season. The Hubs and I intend to clean out the basement and rearrange things so that we can shelter in a safer place in the basement. I am in the process of organizing our important documents and setting forth a plan for meeting up after a disaster. We’ve got a call to action within our own home it seems. You probably have some planning to do too. I urge you to take a good look at what you face, wherever you are and to do everything you can to be ready. Perhaps I’ll post our plans here as we go.
Huh, how do you like that? Maybe my post, and my experience had a purpose after all.