Monday, September 15, 2008

A Mighty Wind

Now that I've had a taste of a natural disaster, I know I want no part of the real deal.

As many of you know, Cranky's abode is in northern Kentucky. I don't if it has made the news of you out-of-towners, or if you were impacted, too, but the great state of Kentucky is in a state of emergency and my county, Kenton, has declared its own state of emergency just to add the exclamation point to the level of emergency the state is in.

We were the unwitting victims here in the tri-state area of an inland tropical storm (and I am only wishing I was exaggerating this) caused by a perfect combo of three different meteorological phenomena: the remnants of Ike came up the west side of us, a strong area of high pressure hung out to the east, and a super strong jet flow came up out of the south.

Long story short: starting around noon yesterday, and lasting until around 6pm, we had sustained tropical-storm-force winds of 40 mph and hurricane-force gusts over 75 mph. I believe the strongest gust measured at just a hair below 80, with a few hours of regular 70+ gusts.

The area affected by this wind storm is so large that no one has school today. I do mean NO ONE. Not even those schools, like Jason's alma mater, that don't call off for snow unless there's enough of it to cover a kindergartner while he's walking to school.

Here's the kicker with this storm: wind takes down power lines, y'all. Having never had a tornado really close to my person, and not living near the coast, I was a little naive about what high wind does. Especially what 6 hours of high wind does.

We were one of the lucky ones; we lost power for seven hours, starting at 1pm yesterday, but hundreds of thousands in the greater Cincinnati area are still without power and may not have it for 2 or 3 more days. 90% of homes serviced by the area's main power company lost power yesterday. We have roof damage, but it's not bad and we are going to wait a day or two to even call about it because so many around us have it so much worse.

Our house is at the end of a cul-de-sac and is in a valley not surrounded by mature trees. As our entire end of the street stood outside and tried to help each other secure things around our homes as best we could after the power went out, listening to the thunder-like cracks of old trees in the woods behind out homes breaking under the strain, we heard that the damage was worse up the street and that a tree had just gone through someone's living room. I have a colleague that lives in one of those houses up the street, so Jason, Ains and I and our next-door neighbors took a walk. On the opposite side of the street from us, where the mature trees left over from when our subdivision was still a farm are much closer to the houses, trees were leaning against houses and large branches were in yards and blocking driveways. It looked like a tornado had come through. Then we saw the house with the most damage on our street: a tree fell into the outside wall of the house and crashed partway into the living room. No one was hurt there, but when a neighbor came out to help and wait with the occupants while the fire department and paramedics came, a large branch fell off another tree and hit her in the face and shoulder. She got carried away in the ambulance, bruised and bloody but alive, while the owner of the trashed living room stood talking to everyone with her blood still on his shirt.

That was at 2pm. It went on 4 more hours.

I've seen trees in our back woods move to the point of breaking during the worst thunderstorms; then, it only lasts a few minutes. For six hours, we listened to our house groan, watched the trees crack, and counted the shingles that got blown off the front part of our roof to land on our back deck. We sweated inside an electricity-less house as temps outside got to ninety. (We started out with windows open, but had to leave just a few on the back side of the house cracked after things starting flying off walls and our belongings started getting covered with small debris that got blown through our screens.) I threw out a pot of soup I had optimistically put on in the crockpot that morning, assuming this was going to be a normal day. In our part of the world, "Wind Advisory" usually means "good kite-flying weather." No one, not even our weathermen, were prepared for this or knew things would be this bad until the lines starting breaking and trees starting falling.

Food is a necessity, and we had nothing we could eat straight from our cabinets (and we didn't want to open the fridge and let out the cold air preserving our just-bought groceries), so we ventured out when the winds began to subside a little. We found a pocket of electricity off an interstate exit to our north that had a Chipotle open; lines were outrageous, but damn, that was some good Chipotle.

Driving back we saw just how widespread the damage and outages were. We saw huge uprooted trees (I've never seen a tree's rootball up in the air before, and I don't think I care to see it again). We saw siding ripped off homes and blowing like a handkerchief in the breeze. We saw roofs much worse off than ours, with bare patches and shingles sticking up at unnatural angles. It took us around 30 minutes to get back as we took a route that would let us gauge whether or not the school buildings in my district were powered or damaged (with our home phone down because of no juice, and no TV, I knew I would miss any kind of "school's closed" message). In that time, we only found one traffic light that worked.

Our area is stunned. Damage covers the entire metro area and the outlying rural counties. No one escaped unscathed. And our area, which isn't remotely close to the coast, and isn't in Tornado Alley, and doesn't usually have extremes of weather of any kind save for the once-in-a-decade dropping of over a foot of snow, isn't really prepared for this. Our damage is small, but should probably get fixed before the next soaking rain. I have no idea whether that is going to be possible given the scope of the damage and the available resources.

One woman across the river died as a tree crashed into her home office and crushed her while she worked on her computer. So we are very, very grateful that no one we know got severely injured, and that our neighbors who were visited by a tree in their living room were already able to start the repairs and, from what we saw late last night, still able to live in their house.

We will get by. Power came on a little after 8, and life is starting to look and feel more normal in our immediate neighborhood. But the footage on the evening news last night was sobering. It's like what I've seen on TV following weaker tornados, but instead of being confined to a single area, it's everywhere. It's like rain-less hurricae damage, but there's no ocean. It's surreal, and I am doing a bad job describing what it's like here. I still feel a little shocked; I've never seen something like this happen with so little preparation and notice.

Here's hoping I never see it again.


Karen said...

Glad to know you all are okay!!

Robert K. said...

I feel your pain. Look in Wikipedia for "1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak". If you still want to come to Oklahoma to look for family roots in Del City, you may want to avoid late spring through early fall.