To read about "Day 1", Click here.
Jeff and Darren were out the door again by 5:30 Monday morning. I was awake. I laid in the bed, going through the messages on my phone. One of the first things I read was a facebook status someone posted saying the tornado had lasted just 12 seconds. This floored me. 12 seconds? 12? Alllllllll that devastation and chaos, that would take months, maybe years to clean up, was created in 12 seconds?
The hydro was still out. It was very quiet in the house. I got up and had a shower by flashlight. The water was hot, which I was grateful for. I had no makeup, no hair straightener...I didn't even have my toothbrush.
As I tried to fish my clothes out of the suitcase by flashlight, I was overcome by tears. I sat on the bed and sobbed for the first time. This sucked. All I had to my name right now was in that little suitcase. I forgot to pack toothbrushes. I had a whole day ahead of me to try to figure out how to put my life back together and I was facing it alone. No family in town, my husband was busy with the fire dept...how was I going to figure this out on my own? I went from my Daddy to my boyfriend who eventually became my husband. Now my Daddy was across the country and I still couldn't deal with calling him. I never bothered with learning about our insurance policies or dealing with them, Jeff had always done that. I didn't even know who our house insurance was with. I knew who our vehicle insurance was with, but that company's office was located in our downtown core that had been blown apart. I was pretty sure they wouldn't be answering their phones this morning...not that I even knew what their phone number was. My cell phone was dying anyway. Our broker lived here in town too...who knew what kind of personal situation he was in himself.
I went downstairs, had some juice and some baby carrots. lol. The fridge had been without hydro for about 15 hrs now but everything still seemed okay. My phone was dying again, but I was able to BBM the address of where I was staying and how to get there, to my sister in law who was coming back into town to work with Victim Services. Both her and Mike were taking the day off work to be here. It was Monday.
By 8am I was getting pretty antsy. I decided to start walking, figuring I would meet Nicole on the way. Darren lives about 7 or 8 blocks North of us. I started down Victoria St towards my area of town. It was still completely blocked to traffic. It was a beautiful bright sunny day and the devastation seemed to be so much more magnified in the morning light. I was snapping pictures with my camera, my phone completely dead now. As I neared my corner and saw the church and the bank I felt that sense of anxiety rise in me again. I approached the OPP at my corner, pointed at my house and identified it as mine. I asked them if I could run in and grab my insurance information. They refused me. To my embarrasment, the tears rose up in me again and I couldn't stop them. I tearfully told them the forms I needed were right inside the front door in my living room and they could watch me the whole time.
"That house is not safe. We cannot allow you in there".
"What if one of you came with me? Then could I get them?"
The one OPP looked at me incredulously and said "I don't want to go anywhere near that house...it's not safe".
I was sobbing now.
"Well, how am I supposed to get my insurance info???"
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you in there"
I was angry with myself. Why didn't I get those stupid forms last night when I was in there with Patti and Barry?
I looked down at my camera and back up at the officer, ashamed at my blubbering.
"Can I at least take some pictures?"
They had no problem with that, as long as I stayed on the other side of my street. Even being on my own boulevard was too close. I walked up the road, my shoulders shaking with sobs, trying to look dignified. I knew they were just doing their jobs. The firemen were likely saying the same thing to people all over town.
It just sucked.
I stood there taking pictures for a few minutes and then headed on my way. I went back over to the OPP and asked him when we would be allowed in. He said it would have to be deemed structurally safe by the building inspector. I laughed at that, and told him the building inspector was my neighbour and was missing half of his own roof. He replied that he knew that, but that it didn't make a difference. I thanked him and kept walking.
The next place I stopped was Jodi's house. Jodi has looked after my kids for the last 6 years and has become one of my closest friends. She is 8 1/2 mos pregnant with her third child. I was worried about her the day before but Jeff had told me he had been talking to her yesterday and that they were fine. I walked up her steps and saw that she was missing her front screen door. I could see her sitting in her kitchen. She looked up when I knocked and as soon as I walked through her door the tears came again. She rushed over to me and I cried in her arms just like the little ones that do it with her everyday. Her husband and 2 sons joined us at the door and listened as I tried to get the words out. I had no filter infront of those 2 boys, ages 10 and 6. Jodi had a generator going so I sat down and plugged in my phone. She showed me the many pictures on facebook of the aftermath of the tornado. It was the first time I had seen pictures of the Salt Mine and The Square, our downtown core. I was stunned. There were no words. Once my phone came back to life it went off with messages from Jeff, Mike and Nicole, all wondering where I was. I told them where I was and they replied that Nicole had been looking all over for me.
I told Jodi I knew I needed to call insurance companies but didn't know the numbers. She pulled up a message that had been posted on facebook from my vehicle insurance company with 2 cell phone numbers to call with claim information. I called and spoke with a girl named Becky, who was an angel. I was tearful while on the phone with her, and when I told her my address she informed me that the people in that area were "a priority" and that she would get the ball rolling. Our home insurance was not with this company, but she offered to call them on my behalf to get the ball rolling there too.
Too bad I had no idea who my house insurance was with.
I stayed at Jodi's for quite awhile, talking with her and her husband, watching the clean up on her street and listening to her 2 boys who had it all worked out how my kids could stay there until we had things figured out. I told them I wasn't sure when my kids would be back from their grandma's, but they were already making big plans for when they returned. Jodi's husband Matt and I watched while entire trees were dragged behind machines down the street...quite a sight to see. Matt went to McDonalds to get us breakfast. It was hard for me to believe half of the town's hydro had already been restored, when the other half of town was in ruins. A couple of friends and Jeff's parents called my cell phone to check in. I tried getting ahold of Jeff to see where he was and what he was doing. He and Mike were at The Salt Mine, where the one fatality had occurred. Jeff explained to me what they were doing and the level of danger they were in. I was not comforted by this whatsoever. I didn't even tell Nicole, as I knew she wouldn't handle that information well either.
Eventually I wanted to go back to my street to see what was going on there, if anything had changed. Jodi wanted to come with me, so we walked the few blocks. She had already told me I could use her van, but I knew we wouldn't get a vehicle anywhere near our street.
When we got there, my street was filled with my neighbours coming in and out of their houses. The OPP that had been blocking my street since yesterday afternoon were gone. I wasn't sure if we were really supposed to be there or not, but now that we were, I wasn't leaving. I showed Jodi around and she was speechless.
Because the front door was now boarded shut, we entered the house through the back door, which meant we had to go through the back yard.
We had worked on our back yard for the past 5 years, building it up to something we were quite proud of. Now, it was all gone. I couldn't even see the magnolia tree, the fence had fallen on top of it. The pond was covered in debris. My hydrangea bushes, weigela bush, mini roses, and so much more, were ruined. It hurt. The neighbour's muskoka chair was in our backyard. The glass in the patio table was smashed into a million pieces. The gazebo that had been covering it, which we loved, was inpieces and had been thrown into the other fence. The gate to our fence was missing completely. There was debris in our backyard we didn't own or have any idea about where it came from. Jeff told me later there were parts of The Salt Mine in our backyard. The clothesline was across the yard. The telephone line was across the yard. There were tomatoes from my garden all over the yard. You couldn't even see the vegetable garden, it was buried under...stuff. And there, in the middle of it all, was an axe, laying across the handle to our push lawnmower. There was insulation everywhere you looked. And it wasn't from our house.
And yet the planters/potting bench that Jeff's dad had built for us last winter was sitting there untouched. I showed Jodi the inside of the house and she called her husband at home and said he needed to come over, that he wouldn't believe it and we needed help. I was so flustered I didn't even know what to do first. I wrote "I have access to the house!" as my facebook status, which again, set off a flood of responses. I had been in there what felt like 5 minutes, grabbed my insurance papers and a couple big suitcases, planning to load every stitch of clothing we owned into them, when I heard a male voice yelling from downstairs. I went down and saw Sheila's husband Jeff coming in my back door.
Sheila had saw my facebook status. That girl works fast.
He asked me what I needed and I threw my hands up and said I had no idea. I basically told him to treat it as if it were his own house. He said my roof needed to be tarped. He was going to go get supplies and would be back. Jodi said she would get her husband over to help him. He noticed my neighbour (building inspector) had a generator going, found some extension cords and plugged our house into it. Our freezer full of beef we had just got maybe a month ago would be okay now. Our fridge would be okay and we could charge our cell phones.
I called my home insurance broker, identified myself and said I needed someone to come have a look. The broker's office said they would call my insurance company and that someone would call me back very soon. I started loading clothes into the suitcase. I ran to the basement, which was still pitch black and fished out Makenna's birthday presents and the gifts I had bought for her cousins' birthdays. I started making piles in the front hallway of stuff to take with us.
The next little bit is blurry in my memory. Patti and Barry came, Jodi's husband came. Sheila came. I know there were others too. Sheila's and Jodi's husbands worked at tarping the roof. Sheila said her husband would be able to re hinge my front door and said she would get us a new lock for it.
I had never heard back from my home insurance company. I had called a second time and was again told someone would be contacting me very soon. When I called a third time and was told the person I needed to talk to was on her lunch break, I lost it.
I told her I didn't get a lunch break. That I didn't know how long I was allowed to be in the house, and whether or not I was allowed to touch anything or clean anything up. That I couldn't sleep there ever again and needed to get everything out of it but needed to know if they needed to see my house "as is" first. That I had been told twice that someone would be calling me "right back". That I was dealing with this alone as my husband was a fireman for the town and that I had no idea what the hell I was doing and needed some freaking help.
Then I apologized.
She put me on hold.
Crap. That's when I realized I was going to have to handle this whole thing like a Noble (my maiden name), not like a Wormington. I had seen and heard about my brother and father dealing with insurance companies in the past. I was going to have to get dirty and be a bitch.
Then, the owner of the brokerage firm himself came on the phone.
He spoke very calmly and courteously to me and told me everything I needed to know. Exactly how much we were insured for, that yes, I could get whatever I wanted, do whatever I wanted. That the claim adjuster had been notified, but was having trouble even finding our street.
Which I had no doubt was true.
He asked me if I needed money for a hotel, or what our accomodations were. I told him we were fine that way for now but that I knew this house would need to come down and that we would need long term accomodations. He assured me everything would be taken care of and from now on he would be my contact person until I had met with the adjuster in person. I thanked him and told him that was all I needed to know and didn't understand why someone couldn't have told me that 3 hours ago.
I hung up and went downstairs where Sheila was trying to look busy.
"I was just a real bitch there" I said.
"You had every right" she replied simply.
It was scorching hot outside I knew I was getting a sunburn, but had no idea where the sunscreen was. Jeff was still in a complicated mess at The Mine. He told me he was going to be relieved at 2pm and that he and Mike would come help me then.
At one point while outside, a reporter from The Globe and Mail came up and asked to interview me. The media presence was huge. There were big media trucks from every national TV station and many radio stations and newspapers everywhere in town, many parked in my immediate area. Helicopters and Airplanes were constantly overhead. Jeff had been interviewed by The London Free Press yesterday and here I was today with The Globe and Mail. Wait till my mom heard this.
The interview I did was posted on Youtube that evening.
My insurance adjuster arrived in the afternoon. While I was thrilled to see her, I was anxious because Jeff wasn't there. I had to do this alone. I had no idea what to do, what to say, what not to say, etc. I showed her around, starting with the backyard. That's when I noticed the slide was ripped off our kids' swingset. I hadn't seen it anywhere and had no idea where it was. The whole thing was just so unbelievable. She went through my house and I noticed then that in the living room, the ceiling had separated from the adjoining wall. You could stick your whole hand up in there into our bedroom. The force of that tornado, what it did to that wall, to the whole east side of my house, just boggled my mind. She decided to call in a structural engineer. That that person would come in and determine whether or not the house was structurally sound. If it wasn't, it would be condemned and need to come down. This structural engineer would decide whether our house would be repaired, or rebuilt.
Really? That was actually up for debate?
Our adjuster was a very kind, compassionate woman who lives here in town herself. She said to start making a list of contents that were damaged and destroyed. She confirmed our living arrangements and after a few minutes was off to her next house.
I hoped I had said and did the right things. I was pissed Jeff and Mike weren't there. Of course, about an hour later, they returned. When Mike heard about the engineer coming he said that without question he needed to be here when they arrived. I said that was just fine with me.
Our friends were still at our house. Jeff and Sheila had got a new lock for our front door and re hinged it by the time Jeff got back. Mike and Jeff had seen all the pictures I had taken of the house but now actually saw it with their own eyes. I kept waiting for Jeff to break down, especially after the morning he had had at The Mine, but he didn't. Mike, Patti and Sheila were making plans to empty my house the next morning. They all knew it would be condemned, and that once it was, we wouldn't be able to get anything out of it. The house 2 doors down from mine that had the funhouse stairs had already been condemned and that family lost everything in it. They weren't allowed anywhere near it.
Patti, Sheila and Mike's plans were like backround noise to me. I knew they were making them, they told me what I needed to do and how, and what they were going to do, and I heard every word, but none of it really hit me. They were talking at me, not with me. I looked Mike straight in the eye and told him I needed him to take over, that I couldn't do it.
Without hesitation, my little brother, 5 years younger than me, agreed.
Also in the backround were rumours that my dad was trying to book a flight home. Mike and Nicole had talked to him and were trying to convince him not to, that there was nothing he could do. I begged Mike to convince him to stay out west, even though I knew it would be ripping my dad in half that he was so far away.
My dad does not "do" helpless.
Eventually Nicole joined us at the house and saw the damage with her own eyes. She said she would take the next day off work to come up and help us pack everything up. Jeff and Mike had to return to the firehall so Nicole and I ate supper at the YMCA. We sat between OPP officers from Elgin County and Huron County and behind The Search and Rescue officers from Toronto. We ate chilli.
I hate chilli. But was never so grateful for chili in my life.
By now I had Jodi's van and had packed the stuff into it from this morning. I had toothbrushes. And makeup. And birthday presents. And School clothes. But the rest of my house was still inside my house. Plans had been made to clear it out the following morning.
From the YMCA we went to the firehall. By now I had heard our chief's house had been hit too and he didn't know if it would be repaired or rebuilt. He hadn't even been to it yet, as he was so busy dealing with our town's State of Emergency...National Disaster. We had just been to his home a few weeks earlier after our annual Fireman"s Breakfast. They have 4 kids. The back window had been blown out of his town truck and he was driving it around with the window taped up. He was doing a phenomenal job. He looked like hell.
I had received a call on my cell phone while we were there from the structural engineer saying she would be over to look at the house tomorrow. Mike said it was "go time" tomorrow morning - we had to get that house emptied before she got there. He would be there with his army by 8am. I called my mom and grandma from the firehall and was told that my cousin Ty and his fiancee had been out and bought my kids $200 worth of new clothes. My Dad's sister Dianne had bought them $100 in new clothes and my grandma's neighbour had bougth them $100 in new clothes. My mom's sister Dianne had also bought them various things. I was so overwhelmed at this I didn't know what to say or do.
We went to another firefighter's house on the side of town that had hydro once we left the hall. It was dark. We watched TV, I used their computer, Jeff showered. I just simply could not believe the two worlds existing within the same town. A bunch of other firefighters gathered at that home that evening and it seemed to be really good for them to be together in an informal environment like that, able to blow off some steam. Most of the wives were there too. It struck me again at this moment that we are all a family.
We really, truly are.
Once back at Darren's, still without hydro, still without Darren's wife and daughter, the guys were asleep in no time. I finally had a vehicle for myself now, and felt better about that. Jeff had to go to the hall in the morning, but then would be able to spend the day at our place helping pack it up. Mike and his army would be there at 8am, as well as our army of friends from town.
Tomorrow, I was going to pack my entire house into a 48 foot trailer, rushing against time to beat the arrival of the structural engineer, doubting very much my husband would actually be able to be there and help me.
Crap. I didn't even have any boxes.
4 hours ago