Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sirens Were Blowing, Clouds Spat Rain. And as the Things Came Through, It Sounded Like a Train.

So, it's the 10th anniversary of the Iowa City tornado. Just for fun, I'm going to trot out the piece I wrote about the tornado right after it happened. Here it is:

 At first the sirens went off and we ignored them. I have ignored those sirens for the 20 years I've lived in Iowa City. Coadster looked worried but I reassured her (like I always do) that there will never be a tornado in Iowa City because of the way the river runs or whatever the hell I've always been told. Then the siren went off again and I told Coadster that the tornado would hit Swisher like it always does. Then I got a call from Ale' at UAY telling me that she was safe and in a basement.

I got Coadster set up in our laundry room that doesn't have any windows (we don't have a basement) and I decided to take a bath since the bathroom doesn't have any windows either. I lit candles just in case the power went out and Coadster had dragged any comforter or blanket she could find. Halfway through my bath, the sirens stopped and then I heard a sound different from anything I'd ever heard before. It was like a train, but louder - it was a huge locomotive, bigger than our house. I jumped out of the tub and wrapped some towels around myself. Coadster was in the fetal position on the floor and so I wedged right behind her. She had made a nest of our dirty laundry and comforters and we covered ourselves in blankets. Our ears were popping and we could feel the house start to lift. All we could hear was that fucking train and Coadster screaming, "Mommy, make it stop!" But I couldn't. I couldn't protect my daughter. When I felt the house move, I thought that was it for us and I was so sad that Ale' would have to grow up without us.

 Then something happened and our ears stopped popping and the house calmed down. I think it was because the roof blew off and relieved the pressure. Then the winds died down. We were afraid to sit up in case it came back. I reminded Coadster to breathe, "In through your nose and out through your mouth," and we practiced taking long, deep breaths together.

We heard voices outside. People inquiring if everyone was okay. We decided to get up and see what happened. All of our windows were covered in mud and I remember thinking how strange it was that none of them had blown through. I tried to open our door to see out, but there was a tree keeping us in. I went around to the other door and the tree was there too, but we could wedge it open a crack big enough to get through. Our neighbor and his daughter were standing outside. When Coadster saw her friend, they both cried and held onto each other. My neighbor informed me that there was a gas leak and a downed power line and we should leave our place. He took Coadster and I tried to get in my car and pick up Ale' downtown.

My car looked okay at first and then I noticed the glass. The back window blew through my car along with parts of trees and leaves. I cleaned off my seat and got in. The road was blocked by a downed tree to the West and so I tried to go the other way. I made it to Hotz Street before I was blocked by another tree. Hotz St was torn up. Every tree, every garage, most of the houses looked like they had been bombed. The radio was telling me that another tornado was approaching so I got out and tried to run to our neighbor's house. A guy stopped me and asked me if I had a place to go. I have no idea what I said to him, but whatever it was must have appeased him. It smelled like Christmas because of the huge pine that had been topped off and was now lying in the street. I looked out for downed power lines and climbed over several huge trees before I made it to the neighbor's house. Every single one of their windows had been blown out, but they had a basement and we all huddled in the bathroom and listened to the radio.

It sounded safe again. The neighbor's phone was working so I called my ex-husband at 126 where he works and asked him to get Ale'. We went outside to see if everyone was okay. Slowly, we were finding people and pets. But we couldn't see very well. We thought it would be so much better if we could just see. We were trying to go from house to house on Parsons, Hotz and Jefferson to make sure everyone was okay. Most people I ran into were laughing - not because it was funny, but because it all seemed so ridiculous and surreal. I walked past a duplex on Hotz street where one side was smashed by a tree and I heard someone sobbing. That sound was almost worse than the sound of the tornado itself.

We had heard that they turned the gas off so we thought it was safe to go back home. I walked to the back to see if the gas lines were still attached and they were. When I came back to the front my landlord was there with his high school aged daughter and 2 of her male friends. he hugged me and said his house was fine but he was fighting back tears at what happened to us. He thought it would be okay for us to stay in our place since the gas was off.

The upstairs neighbors came home to get their cats. He had left 10 minutes before the storm and had barely made it to his friend's house before it hit. Luckily, their cats were fine and they put them in a duffel bag to take them back to where they were staying. His girlfriend was crying and Coadster went up to her and said, "Are you okay? Really?" and hugged her. I was so happy that my daughter was growing up to be a compassionate and good person. Sometimes when they're 13 and hard to take, you wonder, but Coadster has been so amazingly helpful and kind through all of this.

The guy who lives upstairs looked around and said, "Dude, this looks just like Storm Stories, but it's my house."

The girls and I finally went in our house. We unfolded our futons and all slept together in the living room so I could reach over and make sure they were okay throughout the night. One, two. One, two. I counted them from time to time. They were both sure they wouldn't be able to sleep, but they were out in 5 minutes. I was up most of the night. We had to leave the window open (without a screen as they had all been shredded and ripped off), since there could have been gas left in the pipes to escape into our house. MidAmerican was across the street by 10 and working cutting up all the felled trees on the power lines. Chainsaws buzzed all night and after the bars closed, the drunk college kids stumbled through our neighborhood laughing and probably looting. I fell asleep dreaming about a drunken A-hole trap. In my dream, the power was still on and I set a cold shiny 40 oz. directly behind the live power line and watched as each drunk fried on their way to take it.

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