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As Long as We Remember...

September 21, 2004

Ivan Traveled Too Close For Comfort

Bethany Stevenson

How often do we take time to count our many blessings? For some of us this past weekend was an opportunity to do just that.

Dateline: Friday, September 17, 2004: Hurricane Ivan blows in early in the AM hours and Fredericktonians awaken to a grim, grey, rainy day. It is a little humid, but it is no different from any other 'all-day rainstorm' that blows in from the tropical areas.

Along about 5 p.m., the air begins to clear, the sun pokes through the clouds, and the bleakness of the day seems to dissipate. Nevertheless, the reprieve is only the proverbial "calm before the storm." By 5:30, the thunderheads begin to roll in with ominous noise that some in denial may blame on subwoofers of loud radios passing by.

For myself, I traveled from my home on Butterfly Lane to a work engagement just off New Design Road. My children were at swim team practice at the YMCA. My husband, still in denial that a storm was brewing, made a trip to Home Depot for items to "upgrade" the boat for a possible outing on Saturday.

As the sky turned from grey to blackening, I began seeking weather information. Lo, and behold, a tornado watch had been issued for Frederick County. Okay, so what, just be careful, right?

7:00 p.m.: The blackening sky turns to pitch black with swirling grey clouds below. The lightening seems to be crashing around us and suddenly the wind picks up and starts to blow larger yard items around.

A quick call to my husband reveals he has yet to make it to the Y to pick up the kids. "Motherly Instincts" kick in and in an attempted calm voice, I advise him to retrieve our offspring. "Get your butt to the Y and get them now!"

He agrees to turn on the radio for weather advisories and quickly takes possession of our children. Meanwhile, "back at the ranch," we, - meaning the ladies at the engagement and I, see a transformer near Ballenger Creek give off an eerie blue flash. We immediately take shelter in the basement of the home.

A call from my EMT sister reveals a building nearby my location has collapsed and a tornado on the Frederick side of Braddock Mountain has been spotted. Thank goodness for cell phones!

I, once again calmly, raise my husband. He has the children in tow and is now attempting to fill the stomach that I did not. At the drive-thru, I hear the garbled voice of someone taking their order. I advise him to somehow find shelter, since the restaurant of choice was just down Rt. 40 from Braddock Mountain.

His response, "I have everything under control. Quit bugging me, woman!" (Side note: the last statement is code to mean, "I love you, dear.")

So, 20 minutes in the basement, the sky near New Design has cleared again to the grey with lots of rain. We emerge and begin to continue with the party, our leis around our necks, and some with adult beverage in hand. It really wasn't that bad, just a good scare.

My husband, after feeding the children, arrives at our home to discover that if he had pulled up 15 minutes earlier, they would have seen the grey and black funnel twisting through our yard and the yard of our neighbors. Men in yellow rain jackets are emerging from their homes to check on the status of the neighborhood.

Across the street, a wrought iron gate that was six feet tall and 15-feet wide had been swirled from the back yard, over the house, and landed on top of a Ford Explorer, breaking off the mirror and severely denting, scratching and scraping the roof, hood, and side panels. The gate was twisted in a grizzly fashion; it would take a lot of welding and manly strength just too somewhat get it to normal shape.

Next door to that neighbor a 20-foot tree limb, about eight inches in diameter covered the whole front window up to the second floor. Other tree limbs of similar size littered the front and back yards. Next door to this house, eight trees were desiccated in the yard of an older home. One of these trees landed in our front yard.

But the worst was yet to be seen. On our side of the street, the house next to our driveway had a tree limb of approximately the same dimensions poking out of the roof. Another limb was poking out of the kitchen window. The street lamp in front of the house was snapped in half, the broken part having flown into the wall of the house, breaking in two again with half landing near the front door, the other half landing on our driveway.

The apparent tornado took furniture items off my front porch and deposited them in the backyard. Our shelter for the boat, which is fastened down with about 100 pounds of metal and cement as well as concrete nails through the driveway, was picked up and moved about five feet, where it dislocated the fence. Just a little further to the back, one-third of a tree crashed down on my fence and grape arbor, as well as my cherry trees. Against the far fence, our large jungle gym was scattered in pieces about a hundred feet from where it originally stood.

My husband called me so I would not be shocked as I drove home that night, and to "rub it in" that if he had high-tailed it home like I wanted, he (and the children) would have been in the midst of this act of Mother Nature. After the shock of my being wrong wore off, I continued with my soirée.

My husband, being the kind and compassionate person he is, immediately donned his emergency clothing and went to work making sure the neighbors were safe.

Fortunately, the owners of the homes badly hit and the car that was hit were not home. However, those who lived on the other side of them had been. Their comments were that it was the scariest thing they ever saw.

The funnel seemed to stretch 50 feet up and just bounced up and down: over some things, landing on others. One even commented that he was driving down the street when it first appeared over the first yard. He raced to his driveway, and scrambled up to his front door as it crossed over the first house to the second yard, directly across from him.

On Saturday, the skies cleared, the sun came out, and everyone emerged to assess real damage and support one another in the cleanup. And to count their blessings.

Only homes, trees, cars and outside items were affected. Families were protected and kept safe.

Among the busy nature of our lives, as we strive to acquire more stuff, as we seek to advance in our careers, and to afford bigger houses, we forget that the most important things we have been given are our families, and our friends; life, liberty and happiness. We surely have been thanking our Heavenly Father for the blessings of safety and protection that were upon us and our friends as this storm passed through our lives.

None of us will quickly forget the hand that stayed the storm from fatal consequences.

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