My Novels

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wicked Tornado Aftermath

May 9, 2011 Monday

Yesterday morning it was finally quiet, no heavy trucks/equipment, chainsaws, sirens. What a relief! Loud noises have upset me ever since I had that car wreck two years ago. And after experiencing the roar of a tornado, every sound seems amplified. At times, I find myself jumping at an unexpected, loud noise. Even when the dogs bark.

Of course, what I thought would be a peaceful day was ruined around noon when rubber-neckers started driving by. The streets are now passable, and apparently the national guard is gone. From noon till near dark, it was almost bumper-to-bumper traffic on the one-lane of my street. I tried to be understanding, but by the end of the day, I wanted to jerk people out of their cars and scream, "Have you seen enough yet?" Please, if you are reading this, NEVER visit a tornado-damaged area to sight-see; watch the news, and don't add more misery to people already traumatized. My late husband, as a law enforcement officer, was always disgusted with such behavior, and I sure understand why.

I hired the guy next door to help me with clean-up yesterday afternoon too. First he mowed my yard, then he hosed down the driveways, carport, back porch and patio where debris from that fallen tree had made a nasty mess. It looks much better, and as long as I stay on the back of the house, everything looks normal -- except for the missing big pecan trees next door.

And speaking of trees, I called my lawyer a few minutes ago about that leaning pecan tree from the property next door. Everyone who has seen it says it will fall with hard, straight line winds -- or saturating rain. Some of the roots are out of the ground, and I have noticed it seems to be leaning a bit more toward my house every day. I have taken numerous pictures as proof of what's happening. Anyhow, my lawyer is checking into it and will get back to me.

This morning I had to run errands in town and deposit my insurance check. I went to the library in hopes of wireless access to the internet, mainly to check a couple of important things. I do online banking, and bills are coming due. I paid the first bills by mail and check, since our mail ran the second day after this disaster. Thanks postal workers! There was no wireless at the library, but at least I found several good books as well some movies to watch at night.

Then I drove out to my cable/internet provider, asked if they could give me any idea when my service might be restored. The lady told me she thought it'd be tomorrow or the next day. And they are giving all customers who stay with them a free month + one week. I really do like the service I have; I get great speed online, especially for Netflix, and at a reasonable price. I can wait; patience is something we need to practice more.

Sleep is still a problem. I go to bed early, wake around 3:00. Last night I read for about an hour, and when I finally put the book down, I went to sleep. One of the ladies at the library said her grandson couldn't sleep, and loud noises disturbed him too. It's classic PTSD, but when you're living through it, very difficult.

Also today, the street department has front-end loaders working my street to pick up the huge chunks of massive tree trunks and debris piled alongside the curb. If you are able to get the debris to the curb, our city will pick it up free. I have told several street workers, when I saw them on dog walks, how much I appreciate their efforts. As my late husband used to say, they must be working "from can to can't" every day.

The dogs/cats have settled down a bit. Especially my dogs. They aren't needing to sit on my lap and be reassured as much lately.

It's hot here today, near 90 degrees. With the hot temperatures comes the possibility of severe storms. I dread the first bad storm we have; it will be difficult after what we've been through.

And with that, I'll sign off today.

May 10, Tuesday

First good night's sleep I had last night. Feel better today, a little rested.

The street workers are at it again, almost to my house. When I walked my dogs late yesterday, I went up the street -- and oh my, it's like walking a dirt road. I hadn't realized the dirt/sawdust would coat the street in several layers. Maybe the street sweeper will come along after the debris is gone; the next rain will finish clearing that dust. In the meantime, I've closed my windows...but had to anyway due to the heat. We may hit 92 today, but no rain predicted till maybe Thursday.

The work crew might be here tomorrow to repair my roof/garage. They said they'd be back as soon as they completed another roof job they'd been hired to do.

Talked to my lawyer again late yesterday, will let him handle the landlord/leaning tree issue. I called the landlord and asked him to take action about the tree; as usual, he just said he would. That is what he always says about ANY problem with the rental, then never does anything. Sigh.

Spent the morning sorting through my many photos of the damage, trying to label and store for posting and also as reminders of the devastation. I know it's human nature to forget exactly how bad the experience and damage was, and photos are a way to be reminded, to never forget. As well as my journal writing.

It may seem that I haven't mentioned being thankful I survived, and how others here have had it much worse. Frankly, though I'm thankful I survived, the trauma has been worse than anything I've ever been through. Comparable only to losing my husband. For several days I wasn't able to function; I sat in one chair the entire day after the tornado, listening to the radio. Stunned. I don't think I could survive another tornado if it happened within a year. The aftermath is entirely as shattering as the event, worse than I'd ever imagined. And while I know I did come through with less material damage than others, the emotional scars will always be with me. My neighborhood has been almost destroyed, altered in ways that can never be restored. This is the place I've always felt safe, my true HOME. I even wrote several posts about how happy I was to be back here after the few years away. I sometimes feel disoriented, and get flustered when I need to concentrate; my hands even shake a bit when I'm doing something.

I do have deep compassion for those neighbors who lost homes and businesses, but at least there were no fatalities in our town. Two fatalities out in the county though. I know that I'm too emotionally fragile to help others in worse condition, except to commiserate, talk and listen, witness their suffering; we're all in this together. However, I know myself very, very well; I recognize the signs of too much stress/trauma from other times of distress. I really don't want to get back on medication, like I did for a year after my husband died.

Another reason I'm having a difficult time is all the previous losses of the past five years. After I lost my husband, I lost a brother-in-law (DH's brother); an uncle; mother-in-law; aunt; my mother and several close relatives of my sister's husband. I've been through two re-locations/moves and two car wrecks, both of which might have killed me. This tornado is kinda like the "last straw" emotional state is precarious. I have to take care of myself first, before I can help others in any real way.

Still no internet/cable TV. Instead, I've been reading a book from the library and writing - my basic tools for coping. I lived most of my life without the internet, and I could learn to do without it. I think what I'd miss the most is quick access to abundant information, regardless of what I need: everything from medical research to a tasty recipe. I used to hang out at the library for such information, but gradually replaced that with internet research.

I'm continuing to re-evaluate other aspects of the internet, especially in regards to news. I believe I'd been reading TOO much news and it only caused frustration. Yes, the facts of a news event are important to know; but just the facts and only the facts. And not from a gazillion different sources; pick a few news sources, read the factual article or watch the video, then move on. Leave off media commentary or internet speculation. Knowing what is important to me and my region is first; then national, then international. My husband always said local community comes first, that dwelling on endless bad national/international news is pointless. Will try to remember this!

Now back to some "normal" life...laundry, house-cleaning, cooking. You'd be surprised how these small tasks keep you centered. I don't think I missed a single day of sweeping the floors; I'd do it by rote, feeling like I was carrying on my regular routine. Never under-estimate the little things that make up your daily life!


It's almost bed time, just wanted to add a few remarks from today.

Finally ALL the debris is gone from my street, glad and relieved. Took the dogs to the wooded park, then came home to sit on the back porch while my indoor cats enjoyed being outside. I read some, but also watched the baby squirrels playing in my vine-covered tree. At times I'd see a baby going round and round a thin tree limb, as if amazed at its ability! I LOVE watching wildlife, soothing and entertaining at the same time. Also peaceful after dealing with people for days on end.

The work crew won't make it tomorrow, but I really didn't think they'd finish the other roofing job. And honestly, I can use a couple of quiet, peaceful days without having to deal with people and constant decisions.

Watched a great Hallmark Hall of Fame movie tonight, always good for the heart & soul.

And off to bed now.

Wednesday Morning, May 11, 2011

I want to give a big shout-out to the regional NPR news station. I have been able to learn national/international news. Most regional and local radio stations barely give any news, just music. And that's fine if you want to relax and listen to music. However, NPR news station does keep updated reports.

Another thing I've not mentioned is why I didn't load up the dogs and go to my sisters' homes (both tried to get me to do that) or a pet-friendly local motel. Here's the reason: if your home is livable at all, it's best to stay. Mainly for practical issues: insurance adjusters coming by, hiring work crews to take care of damage before worse problems happen (such as roof leaking, causing interior damage), potential looters...and more. Of course, many people have to leave due to their house being demolished or unlivable. In my case, as difficult as it has been, I'm glad I stayed. I have pets/cats/dogs and I'd be stressed worse worrying about them (especially the cats) if I left. Additionally, it's been a tremendous learning experience, something we should all embrace. Witnessing disaster up-close and personal has given me an opportunity for insights I'd never imagined - and particularly aren't covered in-depth via the news media.

I wonder about the farm where DH & I lived. I know there was a man killed in that area, and I hope the couple are okay and the farm didn't suffer damage. The couple who bought it have a baby now too.

Had I stayed in my other house in the city, which is south of here, I'd have had NO damage whatsoever. Yet, if I still had this house rented, I'd had to deal with everything I'm doing now. Only worse, as renters would have been involved.

Today is the first day life seems normal for me - with the exception of the internet/TV. My back yard looks almost unchanged; my fence is actually in better condition, because some of the posts were rotting. The street crews have moved on, the debris is gone, and though the landscape has greatly changed, I'm sure I'll adjust to it. Emotionally, I'm feeling calmer, a bit more settled.

In one of the news articles from the local paper, a resident whose home was demolished, said, "I don't think we'll rebuild. Once a tornado finds a path, it tends to return."

That is probably true, and I know every outbreak of tornadoes here tend to follow a similar path from the west to northeast, varying only in about a 30 mile north/south radius. However, what we experienced this time was tremendously powerful, unprecedented. The paths of touch-down were all over mid-north-Alabama. And as I stated earlier, I lived through the '74 outbreak that destroyed my grandparents' home. This time it was different, more powerful and destructive. The Tuscaloosa tornado was an EF5, and ours an EF4; NOT the "usual" class of tornado we have.

Enough for now.

Late Afternoon

A quiet day, almost feel normal. Sister will drive down tomorrow, and we're going to a new thrift shop that just opened. It's HUGE, has endless racks of clothes, shoes, furniture, everything a fun thrift shop should have. And cheap prices! Fortunately it's close to where I shop in town, and I'm sure I'll find lots of bargains there in the future.

The past couple of nights, I've had dreams...disturbing dreams that always feature my late husband in danger. I don't dream of him often, but when I do, he's always in a perilous situation and I can't get to him. I'm sure it's because I wasn't able to be with him when he died so unexpectedly. But these recent dreams incorporate stormy weather in one way or another. Isn't the sub-conscious a curious human mystery!?

Hot, hot, hot here today. Had to take the dogs to the small wooded park, streets are blazing with heat.

I am starting to enjoy having quiet time to sit and think, instead of the constant distracting presence of the internet and/or TV. I feel my creative imagination returning more every day, dreaming dramatic scenarios, "hearing" dialog." I didn't know how badly I'd missed my imagination...and blame that on too much internet. Every day I'm not online, the more revelations I experience. I am beginning to dread when it comes back on, hope I will NOT get plugged into a waste of time again.

I received a copy of the letter my lawyer sent to rental property landlord; it states if the tree falls on my property and causes damage or injury he'll be liable not only for compensatory damages but also punitive damages. He advised me to keep the copy, include photos, and if the tree falls, we'll take action. Good enough. I doubt the landlord will have the tree cut, but at least he's been given a warning.

Now back to an engrossing novel I'm reading. Have a good Netflix movie for later tonight. I could get accustomed to this life!


And the idea has taken form & title: "The Leaning Tree." Of course it will be suspense...with a grain of truth in it. I'm observant if nothing else, and I've seen something very, very suspicious. I'll leave it at that, because I never like to give away a story/plot idea.

NOW I remember why I loved the solitude of creative writing; it is soothing to the soul. And shuts out the noisy, hateful world of reality. I'm never in denial about the real world, but fiction (whether I'm reading or writing it) makes sense of a senseless world. And that, my friends, is ART.

Nighty Night all.

Friday the 13th!

Cable/internet came back on last night, and the first thing I did was watch some footage of the tornadoes over Cullman. What a mean-looking thing it was, but oddly enough, even the large one which hit downtown wasn't as massive as I'd imagined it. I think the loud roar caused me to imagine it as big as the one that hit Tuscaloosa -- and EF5. Nature's fury unleashed!

Earlier today we had our first loud thunderstorm, and I did better than I expected. I stayed busy with housework, but occasionally went out to look at the leaning pecan tree; it was whipping around at times, limbs almost touching my house. I've done all I can - whatever will be, will be.

I want to revise something I wrote about "all charity being local." I think being without connection to the internet/TV made me feel as if I were stranded on a desert island! Hence, I was imagining only local help. Last night I watched part of a country music benefit on CMT for the tornado victims, and I realized that one amazing aspect of our country is that WE are ALL Americans, and we do come together (regardless of political differences) when tragedy strikes. That is what makes me proud to be an American. I've given to the Red Cross (wrote an article about the local branch when I was at the paper) and United Way in the past. I deeply appreciate every act of caring whether large or small. I believe the shock of disaster often renders the victims unable to truly conceive of anything much beyond their own immediate needs/situation. Or at least until it's in the process of resolution/help. That is where outside aid/help/volunteers come in, because they are more objective and do the hard work of meeting needs of a community. If this makes any sense!

I am glad to have access to the internet again, yes, and also television. My rant on the "reality tv shows" was meant mainly for the gross-out ones -- in which people are humiliated, or given incentive for repulsive things like eating worms. Yes, there was a reality show in the past that had "contestants" eating worms. That, in my book, is exploitation. If done right, a reality show CAN be informative - but there is a thin line between exploitation and inspiration that should not be crossed. Sometimes it's a matter of taste, and sometimes damage is done to families in the name of "entertainment." I find that unacceptable, and not worth the money such a family might make. There has always been some quality drama -- usually hour long programs. I like "Brothers & Sisters" (missed the past two, will have to catch up); Law & Order series; and more.

As for the internet, it's one of the greatest sources of information ever. But as with anything, there's a dark side and I plan to steer clear of that. AND to limit myself to a certain amount of time, so that I'll have quiet time to sit, think, write/create. Art is needed in times of chaos and disaster, perhaps more so than any other time.

Thanks to the friends who emailed me or posted a comment on my last post. One of those other rare benefits of the internet: friends!

My next post tomorrow will be a photo-blog of what I've witnessed here during the past two weeks after the tornado. For today I'll post this one photo taken about ten minutes after the tornado, when I walked outside to talk with other neighbors. You can see the tremendous pecan trees down across my garage/house, as well as Goldie (not really a stray now!) sitting in the yard. She greeted me the moment I walked out the door! (Click to enlarge)


Stacy Horn said...

Thank you for the update and the picture. More pictures please, as soon as you can!

I didn't think you needed to explain anything you said. All your comments made emotional sense in context. But you do sound so much better.

Cara said...

Stacy, You're probably right. I still do think there's always a slight chance some catastrophe could take out ALL electricity/communication - cell towers/internet/etc. My weather radio has short wave ban, a big help. I did an article with the local chapter of rapid responders who use short wave in emergency situations, and it convinced me I needed the short wave radio.

Sitting in the dark, only an LED lantern, a radio only...sure changes your perspective and in that case, it is ALL local, those you live near/neighbors. At first, my family couldn't get to me; all streets were closed.

Quite an experience!