It's Celeste's Turn column: Feeling guilty in the storm
The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
When my husband and I stepped outside Thursday evening, May 12, after a storm passed through our neighborhood, we were not expecting to see what we saw – complete and utter destruction.
We live along West Meadow Lane in northwest Alexandria and are less than three blocks away from where a tornado caused major damage.
Before the storm hit high gear, I was standing in the house staring out the window because I will admit, storms intrigue me and I love to watch when one rumbles through, when I saw a very large pine tree in our neighbor’s yard across the street just tip over. There were three pine trees in all, but just one went down. It almost seemed like it happened in slow motion, but it really didn’t because when the gust of wind came up, the tree was down. I am guessing it was probably a millisecond.
That is when I knew we needed to get down in the basement. Plus, we were both getting alerts on our phones with a tornado warning for our area.
Al was just about done cooking our fajitas so he turned the burner off, grabbed his cell phone and our scanner and we headed down to the basement.
The sirens were going off in our neighborhood at this point and I will admit, it was hard for me to just sit down there. I did wander upstairs a couple of times, telling my husband that I should probably just go check things out.
When I decided it was probably OK to venture upstairs, I looked out the window and saw the lights of several emergency vehicles across the park and we decided we should go check it out; we do work for a newspaper after all.
I grabbed my long lens for my camera as I thought we shouldn’t get too close. But as I looked through the viewfinder, I was in disbelief of what I saw. A house in our neighborhood was half gone, it looked like the hand of God came down and gave a good sucker punch.
With rain still coming down, we made our way across the park, commenting on all the trees that were down and I may have said, “Oh my goodness” several times.
As we got closer, I could feel tears welling up in my eyes.
I didn’t want to be a reporter at that moment. I wanted to just be a concerned neighbor. I was torn. I was also taken back to the tornado that ravaged through Wadena and Almora several years back. We helped out the Wadena Pioneer Journal and went to Almora to take pictures. At that scene, I couldn’t – my husband took all the pictures. I just stood there, silent, looking at all the scattered debris, pieces of people's lives strewn about the countryside. A heart-shaped locket necklace lay in the grass next to other personal belongings and it shook me to the core. People were standing around dazed. I thought it looked like what a zombie apocalypse might look like. It was eerie.
Thursday’s storm did the same thing. It shook me. And this time, it was my own neighborhood. These were my neighbors, these were their houses, their lives. My house was still standing. My trees were untouched. I felt guilty. I felt helpless. I wanted to fix things and knew I couldn’t. I wanted to rewind the last few minutes and somehow change the path of the storm.
The next morning as I walked around the neighborhood, I realized that the destruction didn’t just happen on West Meadow Lane and Donna Drive, that the tornado made its way down South Darling Drive, too.
I finally saw the severity of the destruction in our neighborhood. And once again, I was shook. I didn’t know what to do. Again, I just felt helpless.
Our neighborhood wasn’t the only one hit. It may have been the only one where the tornado touched down, but several areas in Douglas County got hit by straight-line winds. Douglas County lost hundreds of trees. Many houses were damaged. It was just too much. It is still too much.
And it still just seems so surreal. I can’t imagine what it has been like for all those impacted by Thursday’s tornado and straight-line winds. My heart goes out to everyone left behind – some homeless – to pick up the pieces.
If Thursday’s storm has taught me anything, it’s that those who live in my neighborhood are resilient and strong. So much work has already been done. Our neighborhood may look a little more bare, but we are all still here. No lives were lost. No one was injured.
It also taught me that despite the challenges of the last couple years that seem to have divided people, Thursday’s storm brought us all together again in support of one another, and for that, I can be thankful.