Monday, May 26, 2008

Tornado tore out our buildings, trees, but not our hearts

We take photo after photo, intent on capturing the extent of the damage wrought upon our community by a tornado that chose Windsor as its rest stop. We want to remember as intensely as we’d like to forget. And somewhere in between those two desires is the reality of life here, from this point on.

But photos capture only images, expressions. They show us what’s gone, what’s ruined, what’s forever changed. But they can’t show what I’ve seen here these past four days, since power went out around 11:47 a.m. on a day no one here will ever forget.

They can’t show you our spirit.

Sixteen thousand people live in Windsor, a community that in recent years has been experiencing growing pains as it evolves from being a rural region to one that is home to industry and energy resources. I’ve felt exasperation at some of the choices my town has made as it struggles to decide who it wants to be. I have never held back on calling the shots as I see them.

But what I’ve seen since Thursday’s tornado wreaked its havoc to the tune of tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars in damage is like nothing I’ve ever been a part of. Past frustrations aside, I am proud to call Windsor home, and I’m proud of the people who live next door to me, down the street, across town.

The F3/F4 tornado and its accompanying hail damaged more properties than I know. It stole the homes of hundreds of people, leaving them with little to nothing. It killed beloved pets as well as one war veteran who tried to outrun the funnel in what would be a valiant last stand. It has forever changed the lives of every citizen, some more than others. But unlike the homes and businesses, the historic buildings and century-old trees, it hasn’t torn us apart. If anything, this disaster has brought out the best in my little community.

The response to this sudden emergency has been nothing short of phenomenal. The volunteer emergency response teams from all over the region have dropped their own lives to help us get on with ours. The National Guard, the governor, Xcel Energy…they have reacted with such clarity of purpose and commitment that I couldn’t be more impressed.

And then there are the local businesses and organizations. Our recreation department was turned into a command center, and I have never seen the likes of such dedication. “Whatever you need, you come to your rec department and we will help you,” the director promised. So great was the turnout for individual volunteers that by noon that day, they had all the volunteers they could use at that point. Our police and fire departments have answered the call of duty and worked 24/7 to help Windsor remain safe in what has turned out to be a most vulnerable time. Loodles, a newly established coffee shop, provided free coffee to everyone all day, for days on end. Our local 7-11 distributed milk, water, bread and other staples free of charge. And if you didn’t have them in hand as you walked out the door, the employees encouraged you to take some. If you already had some, they told you to take more. I’m sure there were other instances of goodwill throughout town that I don’t even know about.

With each passing day, Windsor gets a little cleaner. People smile a little easier (though I’m sure we will remain paranoid over every little storm for months to come). A drive down Garden Drive, Cornerstone Drive, or Hwy. 257 shows you what these people are made of as neighbors help neighbors, strangers help strangers, and everyone shares a common goal: To pick up the pieces of the past so that we can move forward into the future.

I’ve driven down the “disaster area” streets several times. The devastation is mind boggling. My entire body is sore from struggling against the 130+-mph winds as I collected my children from the storm. Mentally and physically, I’m exhausted. Drained. And I’m one of the luckier ones. Throughout this ordeal, I managed to remain composed and focused, in “mom mode,” as my siblings call it. But all composure crumbled as I slowly took in the sights along Hwy. 257. I saw houses one couldn’t really describe as “standing” any longer. Overturned pickup trucks, demolished businesses. I would liken it to images I’ve seen of war zones.

But what finally broke through my stoicism was the sight of a woman and her family, standing in what I assumed was once her kitchen. There were no outside walls, only the crumbled ruins of inner walls and rooms. And as twilight fell upon the outskirts of this shattered town, this woman was rummaging through her cupboards, trying to salvage what little might be left inside. My heart just ached for her. Our immediate world had fallen apart in less than fifteen minutes, but here was someone finding purpose in the simple act of finding…what? A frying pan, maybe? A colander? A bag of rice? It seemed absurd and totally logical at the same time. Though I didn’t know her, for that instant, I loved this woman, just for doing the best she could for her family at a time when they most needed her to be strong.

Windsor will slowly rebuild. Our streets will no longer be lovingly cradled by the old trees that link us to our past, but they will still take us from here to there. We will forever be reminded of an event we’d rather forget as we take those streets through town and say “Remember when the flour mill stood there?” or any number of similar remarks. We can never go back to the way we once were.

But if what I’ve seen happen here is any indication of the way we are now, we’re headed in the right direction.

Please feel free to post your comments here...share this blog with others who went through this experience. Some days, it's enough just to be reminded that you're not alone.


Sis said...

Beck, I'm so proud of you for marshaling the fortitude to write about this already. I look forward to your full story when you're ready to write it. You have lived through history, and helped make it what it is. It's only appropriate you should document it.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful to know the Front Porch is still standing, and that all who live inside remain intact!
Blessings to all of you.

april said...

wow. words fail me. i am so glad that your town is impressing you. it's funny how catastrophies bring people together. people that, under other circumstances, may never considered co-mingling, must less reaching out to one another.

i will send up good thoughts to Windsor, and all the other communities that have been so devastated.

la g├╝era said...

You've been on my mind. We lost trees, but have our house, unlike our neighbors. I cannot get my head around the outpouring of help from strangers--that has moved me to tears more than once.

I'm so glad you're all OK! I have a couple of pix on my blog as well.