We climbed out of our storm shelter and wandered in a daze- not recognizing the strange landscape or the utterly destroyed house and belongings around us-there were no landmarks to guide us. It was like being a tourist on an alien planet. Every tree was torn out or broken off in the middle of the trunk, there were swirling patterns in the grass where mini-vortices plowed pathways; what looked like a disemboweled cow wrapped around a tree turned out to be our brand-new heat pump torn open and flung 100 yards. An oak tree was shoved halfway through a pear tree. The debris field continued in a wide swath, paper and metal and plastic and parts of our house having flown halfway to the county line. We walked quietly with our heads down, looking for things we could pick up and wonder at. Mike drifted over and handed me a scrap he’d found in the rubble: a tiny photo of me as a toddler, wide-eyed and surprised.
One of our neighbors came by in his truck to check on us. He drove us to a shelter set up at nearby Little Axe High School, which had been hit and mostly destroyed by the same tornado, but which had a concrete storm shelter. Terry had just lost his house too, and had his own concerns, yet he packed us into his cab, drove down a ditch and under a fallen tree, and got us the hell out of there.
Friends arrived to take us home with them. More friends were there when we arrived, showering us with clothing, toiletries, kitty things, love and concern. Calls and emails came in from everywhere. The response was huge, overwhelming, magnificent, and humbling.
Disaster brings out the greatness of a community. After the shock came an outpouring of support; there were heroes all around us. I’ve now seen angels with chainsaws, driving forklifts, filling out paperwork and bearing lasagna casseroles.
In the morning we waited for word of when we could return to our home. Our neighborhood had been hard hit by the storm- torn up, with one fatality and several critical injuries- It had been declared a disaster area. Not even homeowners were permitted through the barricades. In the meantime we did whatever we could in town, going down a long long checklist.
Mike had gone into the storm shelter without taking his wallet (I had the foresight to take my purse, along with my cat and husband, so the morning after was a blur of re-establishing identity, ordering new credit cards and canceling checks (we pictured them floating lightly over Pottawatamie County like little pigeons). We stopped utility services, filled out change-of-address forms in the post office, and ran a dozen other errands. My great friend Becky Way drove all the way from Yukon, north of Oklahoma City, and became my defacto brain that day; mine was numb and faltering. At one point she took me to Starbucks for a coffee break. When my phone wouldn’t stop ringing, Becky gently placed it out of reach, put a sketchbook in my hands, and gave me the splendid gift of a few minutes of peace and calm. What a wise woman she is.
In the afternoon we heard residents were being let back in. We got a convoy of helpers and roared out to the sheriff’s checkpoint, where we met our insurance adjusters. They had inspected the debris, declaring our house a total loss; their eyes widened when we said we’d been home when the tornado hit. Our convoy moved slowly down the road and onward to tackle the huge task that lay ahead.
We are enormously grateful to so many people who have stepped forward to help- spending a day digging and salvaging, hauling and storing, simply being there for us over and over. There are so many to thank but I especially want to send out a huge thank you to Rich Broughton and Rosemary Knapp (and Vickie and Andy and Zorro!) who took us into their warm and happy home and made us feel like family; to Bill Matthews and Edie Marsh-Matthews, who were there Day 1 and thereafter; to Bill Shelton and Kiki Hiott who brought us things to wear and rescued our goldfish and many plants from my beloved garden, to Ola Fincke, who lent us the sanctuary of her beautiful house while we got our heads back on straight again. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Becky and Michael Way, who provided brain-power, strong backs, and the loan of a Jeep Cherokee to get around in and haul our muddy, wet, salvaged belongings. A great thanks to countless OU graduate students, who took the intiative and helped in any number of large and small ways that touched our hearts. Looking from here, we see a future that’s in very good hands.
There are many, many more, and we thank you all. We are fortunate souls and have been blessed. I especially want to say a big thanks to you who have left so many heartfelt comments here at Drawing the Motmot. Both Mike and I have taken comfort from your well-wishes and the two of us are deeply grateful for the support of this online community. We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.