To read earlier entries about the tornado, click here.
I could still hear the sirens. They had been wailing constantly throughout Sunday and Monday. Everywhere I went there were emergency vehicles. It was now Wednesday morning and when it was very quiet, I could still hear them in my head.
Wednesday morning I woke up remembering Jeff had a dentist appointment in Clinton scheduled for the next day. I texted my mom, told her to call and cancel it. Jeff and Darren had already left for the firehall to be fitted for the asbestos masks, planning to shower there too. Jeff was getting used to showering all over town. I had been showering at Darren's and today, for the first time, the water was ice cold. Still no hydro or gas at his place after 3.5 days, the hot water heater had finally run out.
I got dressed and headed across town to the Knights of Columbus Hall (KOC). It had been 3.5 days and the clean up had kicked into high gear. Everywhere you looked people were working together to cut down and remove trees, clean up backyards and do whatever else they could to help whoever else they could. Hydro crews were working around the clock to restore service to as much of the town as possible and gas crews were slowly restoring service as well. Union Gas had shut off natural gas to our entire town of 8000 people on Sunday afternoon/evening. Monday night they had started restoring it and were working bit by bit to get the town back up and running. People were coming into Goderich from far and wide to help. I had run into 2 men from Howick Township( where I grew up) yesterday, both sent by their municipalities to help mine. Both men, in separate capacities, drove right by my house and had stopped to talk to us when they saw that that was where we lived. The shock was written all over their faces at the state of our town...like nothing they had ever seen before. As residents of Goderich we were overwhelmed and amazed by the help that was pouring in from across the province.
But driving down Victoria St through town, as you came to my corner and saw that church, the bank and my street, it still took your breath away. Our town had been ravaged by a natural phenomenon. It was still so surreal to think that this actually happened. The church was becoming a symbol of the damage to Goderich in the media and driving by it multiple times every single day, it was never any less shocking to me.
My task today was to go to the Knights of Columbus Hall. Not as a worker or a volunteer, but as someone needing help. That was not going to come easily to me.
I walked in and was met by a few of my Victim Services colleagues. One of them gave me a hug and asked how I was doing...she hadn't seen me since Sunday evening. I opened my mouth to answer her...and the floodgates released. I cried, and cried and cried. I cried until my eyes were red and swollen. For the past few days I had so much to do and was so busy getting the kids looked after, dealing with the house, insurance, engineers, packing everything and moving it out...and I was always surrounded by people. Now, all that was done. My house had been dealt with, there was nothing else to do with it, and I was alone. My emotions were like raw, wide open sores at this point.
What was I to do now?
I noticed that our Fire Chief was in the room, meeting with others as he had been doing around the clock. He saw me there, saw the state I was in. Great, now he would tell Jeff I was losing it over at KOC. He had such a sad look in his eyes, like he wished he could help me but didn't know how. He looked like shit himself.
After I had calmed down, Victim Services pointed out the different supports around the room. Red Cross. Insurance Bureau of Canada. Huron County Social Services. Free food. All of these were things I now required and qualified for.
For the last 12 years I have worked in social services. Each day part of my job was recognizing the needs of families who couldn't recognize them themselves, trying to tell the family that they required certain outside help, and convincing them to apply for it. My job was to be well aquainted with available services in the area for those needing help, and hooking the people up to those services that needed it. If there was one thing I knew, it was Social Services.
And now, here I was, one of those people. The irony wasn't lost on me, I assure you.
I struggled with this and even said it out loud to my Victim Services colleagues. How did I become one of those people? I was no longer the helper, I was the one being helped. I didn't like that one bit. I really struggled with accepting this.
My colleague gently reminded me that I had become one of those people because a tornado went through my house. Not because of anything I had or hadn't done. And that I wasn't alone in struggling to wrap my head around that...the Executive Director of Victim Services herself, who had worked in Social Services her entire career too, longer than me, was in the exact same boat.
It really sucked.
The first thing I did was sit down and register with Red Cross. This is the very first organization I gave all of my information to. When I rattled off Park Street as my address, the volunteer actually stopped writing and looked up at me.
"I'm so sorry" he said softly.
Wow. so my street was well known now.
Red Cross was kind of the "hub" for all emergency supports. Once registered with them, whatever you needed or later qualified for, they would already have you on record and contact you to let you know what was out there for you. They could provide you with emergency shelter, vouchers, food, etc...none of which we needed at that moment.
Next I walked over to talk to the manager of Huron County Children's Services, who was spearheading all things Social Services at the KOC. She recognized me immediately as we know eachother professionally and initially assumed I was there to support the victims in a professional capacity. She asked me what my role was going to be and when I opened my mouth to answer, the floodgates released again.
Crying infront of this woman was a hard, hard moment for me. I had to swallow enormous amounts of pride to accept that this was happening.
She rushed in to hug me as I began to tell her our story. She ushered me over to a chair and said she would help me in whatever way she could. I asked her if any of the houses in town with For Sale signs were available for rent. She looked at me dumbfounded, and proclaimed that to be a brilliant idea. She said she would start calling the local realtors and suggesting it. She then directed me to The Salvation Army across the road from the KOC where "Emergency Start up Funds" were being issued to people in situations like ours. You had to fill out a short form with your name, address, children's information, etc. That was it, and they would provide you with a cheque, right there on the spot, to help you begin to get back on your feet. You could use it for food, for lodging, for gas, for whatever you wanted. It was there for you. Now that the Town of Goderich had been officially declared a National Disaster Zone and was in a State of Emergency these types of programs were available to its residents who were affected. They would also provide wage loss coverage if you had to miss work and wouldn't be paid for it.
I balked at this idea. We had a place to stay, we had food, we did not need wage replacement. We had clothing, we had borrowed vehicles from others, we were "fine", a lot better off than many others. Victim Services and Social Services insisted I go over, that there was enough for anyone and everyone who needed it.
So I went. I was the first one. It was very quick, maybe 10 minutes, but it was so hard for me to be that person, accepting help from County Social Services. I cried so much that morning.
Jeff eventually met me over at KOC while I was talking to the Insurance Bureau of Canada about what to expect as far as house insurance, bringing in contractors, rebuilding our house, etc would go. I was glad he was there for that, because as I said, I was not comfortable dealing with all of the insurance issues on my own. He said that now we had to be thinking of which contractors we wanted to bring in and start making appointments with them. The insurance company wanted rebuild quotes from 3 different contractors.
Jeff had recieved a text that morning from a friend who used to be on the Fire Dept. Rick stated that they were moving up North and needed rid of their house...did we need a place to stay?
Jeff and I went over to Rick's place and discussed the possibilty of renting it until our house was rebuilt. Again, I could not believe there was no damage in that area of town, steps away from Makenna's school. I said I would give his info to our insurance agent and that together they could work out the details and decide whether or not this would work for our insurance company.
From there we went to Clinton, a neighbouring town, to talk to our bank. Our mortgage is with the Credit Union in Goderich, but the bank itself was damaged so the staff couldn't be in it. They had set up in Clinton's Credit Union. We discussed our options with them and deferred a couple of our weekly mortgage payments. We then drove on to Wingham to visit the bank Jeff does his personal banking from. That bank is located on the Square in Goderich, which no one was getting anywhere near for quite some time, so they had representatives in Wingham. After talking to them for awhile we headed to Gorrie.
It was time to visit our kids.
I had called my grandma when we were in Clinton and told her we would be coming, to make us supper, and that there would be absolutely no crying when we got there. None. Or I would turn around and leave again. She hadn't seen us yet and I knew she would be a puddle when she did. My grandma said she wouldn't tell the kids were were coming, that she would let us surprise them.
We walked through her front door and peeked around into the living room where the kids were.
Makenna's eyes lit up and she came running full tilt towards Jeff. He lifted her up off the ground and bear hugged his little girl. She wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs around his waist, and was not letting go. You have to remember, that on Sunday afternoon, when the storm had ended, Jeff's pager went off, he ran upstairs, yelled at us to stay downstairs, and then he was gone. The last time she saw him was in the stairway, crouched down between him and I as a tornado was roaring down her street. The next thing she knew, her Daddy was gone with the Fire Department.
Now it was 3.5 days later and here he finally was, safe and sound. She was not about to let him go.
My little man, who has always been a mama's boy, did the same thing to me. The first thing I noticed was his speech. Jack's speech was evaluated last Winter because he was stuttering and mispronouncing his words. It was determined that his issue was an emotional one. That if he was sick, overly excited, scared, etc..any extreme emotion would affect his speech abilities.
Here he was in my arms 3.5 days later and I, his mother, the closest person to him on Earth, could barely understand what he was saying to me. This tornado had impacted every single aspect of my life...right down to my son's ability to speak.
We had supper there with the kids and were joined by my mom and also by my aunt and uncle who had already planned to visit not knowing we would actually be there. Obviously the tornado and its aftermath was all we were talking about. Jeff was sharing a lot of his experiences he had had thus far with the fire dept with a very captive audience. I kept stealing glances at Makenna, watching to see what her reaction to all this tornado talk was.
Makenna has always been a sensitive girl, one who takes things to heart and internalizes. I was worried about how all of this was going to affect her long term.
While we were there the weather was deteriorating. There had been tornado watches issued earlier in the day for basically our entire province. While it was a bit worrisome for us, because it had been issued for such a wide geographical area, we assumed it was Environment Canada trying to cover themselves this time around.
While at my grandma's though the skies were darkening, the rain was coming, and the thunder was loud. Both kids were antsy about the thunder and I learned that when Jack went upstairs for a nap he asked if the roof was going to come off my grandma's house while he slept.
Three and a half years old.
When the tornado watch was upgraded to a warning, I started to feel really anxious. I could tell my uncle did too because they got up and left. They were worried about their daughter being home alone about 20 mins away. I was pacing the floor, glued to the TV warnings and my phone, constantly looking out the window.
At one point I was so anxious I felt like I couldn't breathe. I picked Jack up, grabbed Makenna's hand and said we were going to my grandma's basement. Her unfinished, dirt basement.
There was a tornado warning, the skies were dark, it was raining hard...it was time to go to the basement. I didn't understand why no one had suggested this yet, given all we had just went though. I opened the door down to my grandma's basement, walked down 2 steps and Jack started screaming hysterically. I tried to calm him down and he just kept screaming that he was afraid of the storm. Jeff came and grabbed him out of my arms and yelled at me to stop scaring the kids. I thought I was the only one in the house doing the right thing. We had 2 kids to look after, there was a tornado warning issued. a warning means they had been spotted in the area. They were imminent. Hello???
Jeff said they were not spotted in Gorrie, that if we had not been through what we had just been through that I would not be reacting this way and that I needed to calm down. He said if I wanted to go to the basement that was fine, but that the kids were staying with him. I yelled at him that everyone should be in the damned basement and he loudly disagreed. It was the first time since Sunday we had argued.
All this infront of both kids, my mother and my grandmother.
Not our best parenting moments right there.
No one went to the basement. Jeff sat in the kitchen with Jack in his lap, his head buried in Jeff's shoulder, whimpering as it continued to thunderstorm. I continued to pace. I sat in my grandma's bathroom hallway, what I percieved to be the safest area in the house, with Makenna as she chattered away about who knows what, trying to make me feel better. My mom and grandma were convinced the storm was passing through and trying to lighten the mood.
And that's when it hit me. We were traumatized. Jack for sure, me for sure, and likely Makenna too. We were going to need trauma counselling.
When there was a break in the storm my mom decided to take the kids back to her place. Jeff decided we would go visit his parents who lived about 10 mins away. I resisted all of this at first. Was it really a good idea for my mom to be driving our two children in this weather, even if it was only 7 minutes? Was it really smart for us to be driving? were we really going to leave my grandma home alone? This all seemed ridiculous to me. Then I realized my mom wanted to get the kids home and Jeff wanted to get to his parents before the next storm rolled through...before I scared the kids again.
Once I realized that, I was all for this idea, and no one was moving fast enough in my opinion. Finally the kids and my mom were on my way, we said goodbye to my grandma, and we were on our way. We couldn't bring the kids home yet, there was still no hydro and I had no idea what I would do with them once we got them back into town. We promised we would see them at the farm for Makenna's birthday party on Saturday.
We pulled into Jeff's parents driveway in a trcuk they obviously didn't recognize. They didn't know we were coming either. They hugged us both, very happy to see us, and we sat in their kitchen sharing stories. At one point I used their computer, thrilled to have access to the internet again. I logged into facebook and laughed out loud when i saw I had over 100 notifications. I sent some emails and noticed we had received an email money transfer from friends who lived in Labrador. People we had met in person once, at a friend's wedding 9 years ago. Before leaving the farm I had a nice, hot shower. I could have slept there, I was so exhausted. Darren called Jeff's cell phone and informed him his hydro had just been restored. We loaded back into the truck to head back into Goderich. Jeff couldn't be away overnight anyway with all the calls the fire department had been getting.
Once back at Darren's we watched the news and exchanged stories with him about our days. His wife and daughter would be returning tomorrow morning. We were invited to another fireman's house for breakfast in the morning and then were planning to go to Bayfield to get some belongings out of our vehicles.
Laying in bed that night, as everything grew quiet, I thought about the way Jack had screamed in fear of the storm. About the way I had panicked and felt like I couldn't breathe. About how Makenna would not let go of her daddy.
I could still hear the sirens.
We were traumatized.
The story continues...stay tuned...
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