This is Part 4 to the story. To read the earlier entries about The Tornado, click here.
As I walked up to the entrance of the Knights of Columbus Hall (KOC) I saw one of the crisis responders sitting on the bench outside chatting with a group of people. I nodded to her and headed into the auditorium looking everywhere for Nicole, my sister in law. I finally made eye contact with her and headed over. There was a group of crisis responders standing together waiting for instructions. I told a couple people what had happened to our place and learned that the Executive Director of Victim Services had lost her home as well...and that she was in Pennsylvania at the moment. We were instructed just to mingle with people, offer our support, see where people were at, etc. I did that with my sister in law for about a half hour and had a bite to eat, the first in about 8 hours. I was texting and BBMing throughout this time as well. There weren't really a lot of people at KOC yet, I don't think a lot of people knew the Emergency Centre had been set up yet, or were able to get there. As time went on I could feel my anxiety building. I was so wrapped up in my own losses I couldn't focus on anyone else's. I went outside to call my mom and saw all the media cameras setting up for a 10pm News Conference. I checked in with my mom, who told me the kids were fine, everything on her end was fine. As I was outside on the phone with her I saw my friend Patti walk in. She is a nurse at the hospital and arrived in her scrubs. She lives one street over from me and it occured to me that her situation could very well be as bad as mine. I hung up with my mom and ran over to her. She had come because she was told to come there to learn whether or not she could get back into her house. She said thought her house was okay and knew her yard was a mess. We talked for a few minutes and she said she was heading to her sister's place in town. She stressed that if I needed anything to call or text her at any time. We hugged and she left. I hung around the KOC for awhile longer, not doing any real "work". I followed Nicole around, listened to people and kept checking my phone. At one point I saw the mayor walk through. All the major meetings were being held, on pretty much an hourly basis, behind closed doors at KOC. The mayor walked through the room, pale and visibly shaken. I had to smile at the hard hat he was wearing.
He was wearing a hard hat, inside our emergency shelter. No one working outside was wearing a hard hat, other than the firemen with their helmets. I did feel for him though. What a mess he was in...how was he supposed to know how to handle this?
The panic started to build within me as it got dark outside. It had been a few hours now since I had heard from Jeff or Mike. My texts and BBMs were going unanswered. It was dark and my house was sitting wide open. I wasn't stupid enough to think looters weren't going to be an issue. I had no front door. My house was right by a busy intersection. My purse was in there. Our wedding rings (Jeff never wears his and I had taken mine off to wash the dishes earlier in the day) were in there. Our entire life was in that house and the house was wide open. Anyone could walk right in. Jeff wasn't available to take care of this. I felt like I couldn't breathe.
I looked over at Nicole. She was busy doing what she was supposed to do. I had no vehicle there. I wasn't about to walk all the way across town in the dark and then all the way back, myself. I needed to get to my house. Jeff still wasn't answering me.
So I called Patti. I told her how I felt. She could hear the panic in my voice and told me she and Barry (her boyfriend) would be right over. They would pick me up and we would go to my house. She wanted to go to her house too. I walked outside and waited. I didn't even think to tell Nicole I was leaving.
It was dark outside. No hydro throughout town at night makes it very very dark. There were police and fire lights going everywhere, but not as many sirens. I could still hear them in my head though. I chatted with a police officer while I waited for Patti and Barry to pull up.
Getting to our side of town was an adventure in itself. If the roads weren't blocked by fallen trees they were blocked by police barricades. We went around a few things, took some back streets, wove the vehicle around various obstacles and made it to Patti and Barry's driveway. We went into their pitch black house and I waited while she tried to find some flashlights, organize a few things and figure out what she needed for the night. I looked at her patio door which looks out into her backyard and there was stuff piled right up against it - I couldn't even see out the door there was so much stuff on the other side of it, blown there by the tornado. Once we loaded her vehicle with the stuff she grabbed from her house, we decided it would be best to walk around the block to my house, not drive. We discussed how we were going to convince the OPP to let us down my street. I had my Victim Services ID on, she had her hospital scrubs on, and Barry was our bodyguard. We met 2 officers at my corner. Patti walked up to them and asked if I could get some stuff out of my house. Barry just walked right by them. They said it was no problem and let us by. I was so so so relieved. But at the same time we wondered "What if we didn't live here? anyone could walk right in it seems."
When we got to my front porch, Barry saw that there was no front door and said "Well, you can't have that".
So that guy went into my garage, which was a war zone in itself, used a flashlight and found Jeff's drill amongst all the damage and debris, grabbed a piece of wood from somewhere, came inside and boarded my front door shut. All by flashlight.
I needed some running shoes. This entire time I had been walking around in flip flops. My feet hurt. The shoes had all been sitting by the front door and had been blown throughout the main floor of my house. It was difficult to find a match. I showed them how the wall had pulled away from the roof upstairs as I got some socks of my own. Patti and Barry couldn't believe it and Barry said the house would have to come down. I stuffed my laptop and my cell phone chargers into a small suitcase with a change of clothes in it for both Jeff and I, as well as some PJs and more socks. I found my purse, wedding rings, passports and other important documents and put them all in the suitcase. My eyes filled when I saw Makenna's Nintendo DS. I should have sent it with her and cursed myself for not doing so. It would give her comfort. I grabbed it and all the games and threw it into my purse too. I didn't know when I was going to see her again, but I knew she would want it. That huuuuuuge bag of flour was still sitting on the table. The steaks were still sitting on the counter. I realized I had no idea where our cat was. At one point earlier in the day I had seen him sitting on the front porch, but I couldn't get on the street at that point. I figured that cat was gone forever and worried about how to tell the kids that. I sat in the hallway in the middle of the leaves and stones and glass and put on my running shoes while Barry made sure the door was secure. The whole scene was surreal. As I sit here writing this, I asked Jeff where Barry got the piece of wood from to board up the door, and Jeff said he never even saw it boarded up. He missed so much of what went on with our house. So many times I have mentioned something from that first day, and he has no idea what I am talking about because he simply wasn't there. He was taking care of the rest of the town.
He finally texted me that he and Mike, among others, were searching buildings one by one for people who may be trapped. I was so grateful to have finally heard from them, but didn't feel much better about what they were doing. So many of the buildings in town were structurally unsound and in danger of falling down, it wasn't very comforting to know that both my husband and brother were entering them, over and over again.
He sent me a message telling me they were returning to the hall so I told him I would meet him there. Patti and Barry dropped me off at the firehall and in I walked with my small suitcase. There were firemen from all different departments everywhere. Patti said she would go to KOC to get my backpack and bring it back to me. She was going to drop some diapers off there as a donation anyway.
I felt home. Finally safe, with Jeff and Mike, surrounded by others who knew us, how bad it was, knew how bad our situation was. Many of the GFD men came and hugged me. All of the firefighters from the various departments were formulating a plan for the next day. I went into the radio room to talk to the firefighter who had been on dispatch all day - coordinating services and communicating with everyone. I asked him what the call originally came in as...when the pagers first went off and he entered the hall and picked up the phone, what did they tell him?
They told him there was an auto alarm going off at Victoria St United Church. That was the inital call. That was what the guys on the other side of town who had no damage from the "storm" thought they were responding to until they got to the 5 Points and saw what they were really dealing with. An automatic alarm. That was the church just around the corner from our house. The church that was missing its roof and had a huge hole through the side of it.
Patti returned to the hall with my backpack and mingled with the firemen that she knew, still in her scrubs. It was almost 1:30am. The Goderich firemen were told to go home and get some rest before returning by 6am. Firemen from other departments would be staying to "guard the town" throughout the night. My brother and his colleagues from Brussels left, promising to be back for 6am, despite being told they didn't have to. Jeff, Darren and I got into Darren's truck and headed for his place. The town was so dark, so quiet. We drove slowly through town with his green firelight flashing so we could take a direct route and go around the barricades without being questioned. As we got out of his truck at his house, a pick up truck drove slowly by. There were 2 firemen in full bunker gear standing in the box of the truck shining flashlights down both sides of the street as they drove by. i don't think I will ever forget that image.
Just like a warzone. Straight out of a movie.
This is something else, I thought.
We went upstairs and fell into bed, none of us expecting to get much sleep. Our bodies were exhausted but our minds were racing. Jeff's heels had huge blisters on them from all that time he spent running around in barefeet and workboots. I was on my phone for quite awhile, texting, BBMing and on facebook. Nicole had said she was coming back into town the next morning to work with Victim Services again and would pick me up at 8am. I finally turned my phone off and put it under my pillow. It was almost 3am. I listened to Jeff sleeping beside me and wondered what kind of horrors he had seen throughout the day. Horrors he would never tell me about. I thought about my kids sleeping in another house in another town and wondered when we could possibly be stable enough to bring them back to town. I thought about the house we were staying at now and how that was possibly going to work long term. I wondered if Darren had even told his wife yet. She and their daughter had left town for a few days to escape the madness. I realized I had never contacted my dad and he had never sent me another message. Someone must have told him by now. I couldn't bare the thought of telling him. I thought about what I was going to do tomorrow. I needed to get back to the house and figure out what to do with it. I needed to call insurance companies and all of their contact info was inside the house. The house that now had a board drilled across the front door to prevent looters from entering it. I wondered how on Earth I was going to deal with all of this while Jeff was working as a Firefighter all day tomorrow, dealing with who knows what.
We had just survived a tornado, the one thing I have always been terrified of. Where were we supposed to go from here?
It took me 4 posts to feel I have accurately blogged my interpretation of "Day 1". I know I have forgotten things I wish I didn't, and mixed up some things and may have some stuff out of order. It has been a week and a half since the tornado and some details have gone fuzzy. That annoys me. What you have read thus far is just the beginning. The story continues...keep checking back!
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