I want to preface the following with an important point. While my friend's experience was intense, it doesn't compare to the loss of lives and indescribable damage suffered recently in many areas from hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and fires. My intention is not to minimize or trivialize those events.
Late August, my oldest friend's affluent Chicago suburb was hit by a devastating storm. Much like an ice storm we experienced a couple years ago at Christmas, there were unexpected outcomes. I asked her to share her experience.
Did you have any warning before the storm?
That Thursday, the Chicago-area weatherman did not predict severe storms or tornadoes - only more of the rain and possible pop-up storms that had been predicted for the past ten days. The first notice of pending trouble came with a neighbor saying that school was letting out early due to strong storms and a tornado warning. The only other warning was the sudden power outage.
What was your experience when it hit?
"As I went about gathering candles, flashlights and closing windows, the wind picked up and the rain started to pound. When it got really, really loud, I went into an interior room with a brick wall, knowing that was the safest place. But I just HAD to watch so I emerged just far enough to watch through my patio doors. As the noise got even stronger, I saw the top half of my healthy maple tree twist in the wind, snap off and slam into the property beyond, taking the fence with it. In that same gust of wind, a huge trunk fell from right to left across my yard and I could see was a chaotic mass of branches and leaves. Ten minutes later, the howling subsided."
What about the aftermath?
When it stopped, my friend went door to door asking if anyone was hurt or if their homes were damaged. There were no injuries. "This was one of the first 'Aha' moments and we realized how lucky we were." Soon neighbors emerged from their homes and into the street to assess the damage and begin clean-up. And for the next four days while the power was still out and most services unavailable, neighbors collaborated to help each other. They had impromptu shared meals and barbeques on gas stoves and grills as the food in fridges and thawing in freezers was at risk for spoiling. They pooled tools to saw branches, car cellphone chargers and other items to make storm aftermath and cleanup more manageable. Young moms tried to entertain kids without TVs or microwaves. By the second day, as flood waters began to back up into basements, some as much as 18 inches, the collaboration continued. "We gathered for the simple comforts of food and camaraderie."
What did you learn from this experience?
After power was restored, dangling electrical wires fixed and threatening tree limbs removed, there was time for reflection.
"It put things in perspective. During this week of natural disaster and recovery, I learned that bad things are often paired with good things. This was a very, very bad storm, but we were very, very lucky that for the most part, life and limb were spared. Remarkably few people focused on the negative, even those who had to move out of their homes until repairs were done.
It's a humbling experience, one that reminds us life is fragile and can change in an instant. We all came away with a renewed sense of community and appreciation of the power of people working together. In times of crisis, people are amazingly strong, generous and supportive. This fact often gets lost in the drone of daily life and I'm grateful that I got a glimpse of how decent humankind can be. When the next disaster strikes, I'll know that help is only as far away as the next person."