After the Tornado

Processing the aftermath, counting what we didn’t lose.

After the Tornado

This isn’t a post I expected to ever write, but we’re alive and against all odds, our home is still standing after the scariest night (and subsequent four days) of our lives.

Last Saturday night, we went to bed fully exhausted. We’d spent two days washing our siding amidst other house chaos, given ourselves a “break” to mountain bike in the heat, and were set for an early morning wakeup to paint.

Our early wakeup turned out to be tornado sirens at 1:30am. I was terrified, aware enough of the weather conditions that night to know that if this was happening, it was going to be very bad. We only had time to grab Ollie and our computers and rush down to the crawlspace under our house. I could see on the radar that a tornado was threatening to form, right in line for us. Minutes later, we heard the weatherman say, “A tornado is beginning to form over downtown Rogers—!”, the feed cut out, and it was on us. We could hear things slamming into the house on all sides, water pouring into the crawlspace, transformers exploding, and finally an enormous crash over the rest of the din. I was certain our house was gone overhead.

When it had finally passed, we crept out, afraid of what we would see. Our house was standing. The roof was intact. Outside, though, was another story. In the eerie flashes of lightning, the skyline was emptier than it should be, and we were surrounded by the mangled remains of trees.

Then, we opened the door to the discovery that we didn’t yet know would define the traumatic next four days.

We’d just been warned about this tree and started to get quotes for its removal.

A 100-foot-tall poplar had been uprooted by the tornado and fallen onto the corner of our house. It was only a dent at that moment, and the tree seemed stable: a close call, but the danger was past. So we thought.

As we sat stunned together in the darkness, a second storm hit. It was an ordinary Arkansas storm this time, but its 70mph wind gusts were too much for the tree. We could hear the roof splintering as the tree creaked crazily against it. We were caught unawares, unable to get downstairs without passing under the tree, so we pushed our table against a wall and cowered beneath it with Ollie in an exhausted second terror.

But this, too, passed. Dawn came, and the tree still stood. With first light, we ventured outside.

We then learned how much worse our looming danger was: the tree was suspended diagonally over the full length of our house, held by one branch of another tree. Each wind gust splintered a little more of the house, pulled up a little more root.

The hours and days ran on. No tree service could come. My parents drove four hours overnight with chainsaws to help, but our tree was too tall to be removed without a crane or lift, so the only thing we could do was clear trees from the roads. We learned what we’d lived through was one of the two largest tornadoes in state history, with a path nearly two miles wide.

Still no one came. Not enough equipment, not enough hands, not enough hours in a day. We cleaned up the damage around our house, helped neighbors, made friends with the power workers. We waited. We cringed through passing storms that spared us. We cried at the worse destruction in neighborhoods up the street.

And finally, they all came: four different offers at once, all for Thursday morning. We had to make a hard choice that night, knowing this was our last chance to save the house before more storms, and turning the others away meant no backup. We had no way of knowing then, but we couldn't have chosen better. Despite their fatigue, this team of three showed up at dawn and expertly brought that monster down over the next twelve hours, limb by limb, with no further damage.

I had already cried all the tears I had, so there were none left for the relief of seeing it go. By evening, they had the weight off the house and only a non-threatening section of trunk left, so we at last slept in our own bed again without fear.

Next morning, they were back again at dawn, finishing it off. And while we thought we’d known the whole danger, none of us were prepared for the shock of finding the last seven feet entirely hollow, with just inches of cracked wood left. The guys were amazed it hadn't shattered.

And with that it was over. We could finally turn to recovery, beginning with the carnage out back that had been my joy. The tornado snapped off all three of the huge, beautiful hemlock trees planted by the house’s architect more than sixty years ago, taking surrounding trees down with them.

And yet, despite it all, it's amazing how much we have left! Of the twenty new trees we'd planted, we lost only one, and a tiny portion of our other plants. I've been picking peas in my still-standing garden. The rain barrels are undamaged. Even our car was only speared in a non-critical place.

The first night back at home, two of our now-homeless owls flew in to check on us, and just as I began to write that none of the deer had yet come back, I turned to find a doe looking in at me.

So we’ll be okay, all of us. What we loved will just look different than it did before.