Saturday, September 18, 2010

Walking through tornado damage

As some of you know, Athens County, OH, was hit hard with severe weather on Thursday.  I was sent there Friday morning after the morning news to do a story on the damage that the area had seen.  Driving up to the small town of The Plains you would have no idea that they were hit hard.  As a matter of fact you wouldn't even have known it had rained the day before, at all.

When I got off the exit, so were hundreds of other sight-seers in their cars, so traffic was slow. It took forever to get off the exit and get into the town, that was home for just under 3000 people.  You could tell things were bad because all the traffic lights weren't working at all, and they seemed to be the least of the worries.  Dump trucks full of limbs and debris kept passing by as I continued into town.  Ahead you could see police cars blocking off all the side streets but people still crawled along less than a mile an hour looking out their windows.  I pulled into an Ace Hardware and decided to walk.  Looking at the store, the front siding was ripped off and branches littered the parking lot.... but that was only the beginning.  I grabbed my gear and headed towards the blocked off roads and continued on to the worst hit areas.  Sheet metal was wrapped around poles, or hanging on power lines that still held strong.  The strong hanging lines were few and far between because many of the power lines lay across the ground, no doubt with the power cut already.  As I continued on, some of the townspeople were cutting the limbs and trees that were laying sideways on the ground now.  Others were confused and just sat on their door steps staring in amazement.  Stop signs and speed limit signs were bent level to the ground.  It seemed that the hardest hit area was where there were mobile home trailers.  Four of the mobile homes were flipped over onto their sides or their tops, some of them on top of the vehicles that were once parked next to the building.  Across the street, the school's field goals were bent until they were resting on the ground.  The bleachers were a tangled shiny mess.  The fence around the football field was plastered with sheet metal and branches.  The final thing I noticed when I was walking back up Main Street was an American flag right in the middle of the path of destruction.  At once it stood erect, on the side of a utility pole, hoovering over Main Street, but was now bent 180 degrees, but still stood strong.  It was amazing to see that it was still mounted and did not break in the storm.

When I was walking through the damage it just tears you apart.  Many of these people seemed to be living one paycheck to the next, and something like this would be worse than their wildest dreams.  Through it all though, the rest of the community was out helping everyone else.  They were cutting limbs and organizing scattered belongings.  I even noticed a few of the older residence sitting in lawn chairs and telling jokes to try and raise spirits.  The most important thing is that no one lost their lives.  While the warning was only a short advanced notice, a minute or so according to some, it was enough for people to find shelter and save their lives.  Count your blessings and have a good one.

Andrew Buck Michael

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