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Sailer: An encounter with the fury of nature

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The day, July 8, 2009, started out warm and muggy. My son, Mark, and 8-year-old grandson, Alex, were visiting from California, so we decided to go fishing at Lake Tschida.

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We caught a few fish and were reluctant to leave, even though the forecast called for a tornado watch. I had never witnessed a tornado, so I wasn’t too concerned. My husband kept pushing, though. “Let’s get going,” he kept saying.

We dropped my dad off at Hebron, and continued to Dickinson while the clouds started building to the west.

We had barely walked into the door when it grew really dark and the first siren sounded. We looked at each other with a collective thought of, “Hmm, should we head for the basement?”

The siren sounded a second time and that’s when we scrambled downstairs. My husband searched for a transistor radio, while I used an afghan to cover up my grandson.

“Dad! Dad! Get downstairs!” shouted Mark.

The wind was howling by that time. “Bam! Bam!” Debris hit the house, and we knew it was more than a thunderstorm. We heard the large redwood gate tear away from the fence, but we couldn’t see outside.

Alex was nervous and we just hugged one another. His house had recently survived a California wildfire that came up to his yard before the firefighters pushed the flames away.

Then it was quiet. As we were walking upstairs, a neighbor rang the doorbell to see if we were OK. I wondered why he had stopped by … until I opened the door.

It looked like a war zone from a movie. We walked out in semi-shock to witness the destruction on our street.

In the dusk, we walked around, sort of like zombies, not believing what we were witnessing. We were careful not to step on lumber with nails. Firefighters came by to ask if we were fine and if we had leaking gas lines.

Part of our neighbor’s house to the south landed in our cottonwood tree and was scattered throughout the yard. Their steel quonset had vanished.

We saw two trails of debris running through the yard — one from the northwest and the other from the southwest. Did two tails of tornados actually pass through the yard?

A particular house to the north of our yard was also in shambles. Parts of our garage were missing. Later, we learned the roof of our house was lifted up, but stayed connected by a couple of nails and the grace of God.

A redwood fence and five trees had gone down in our yard. The garden was destroyed. The vehicles were fine, except for being covered in shards of glass.

Alex said he was a wildfire survivor, an earthquake survivor and now a tornado survivor. He hated the sound of the helicopters, as they reminded him of the fire experience.

The next day, a neighbor’s cousin came by with a truck. He hauled load after load of debris to the dump. We kept working from morning to night, without any concern for food. We must have been running on adrenaline.

When Alex heard bells on our street, he discovered it was a Red Cross truck distributing MRE’s — meals ready to eat — and bottled water.

Whenever the bells started ringing, he made a bee-line to the street. Those MREs tasted mighty fine. We seldom left the neighborhood, though we kept hearing of the greater damage to the west of us.

Over the next couple of days, authorities posted the dreaded yellow eviction signs on houses. We ignored the sign on our house. Where would we have gone?

One by one, we broke down in tears from the stress. There was cleaning to do, insurance paperwork to file — just the disruption to our lives.

We grew closer as neighbors, sharing meals and reliving the experience.

The neighbors to the south couldn’t bear to return to their house because of the trauma and they moved away. They had later found their quonset about a mile to the east.

I think a row of Badlands junipers broke the power of the wind just enough to spare our house. The insurance paid well, and we could afford to repair our house and garage.

We appreciated (still do) the support of the Dickinson community and the Tornado Band-Aid Benefit.

Muggy weather continues to make me edgy, especially if a tornado watch is thrown in the mix. I just hope that everyone has a contingency plan should the next siren start to blow.

Sailer is the lifestyles editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at lsailer@thedickinsonpress.com to share your tornado experience.

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