This is my excerpt from the book of Tornado Stories put together by two other volunteers Cathy Cove and Elizabeth Bundy-Cooper donating all proceeds to another volunteer organization called Victims Services. Book requests can be made through firstname.lastname@example.org and cost $20
So, right from the get-go I was having my typical sunday afternoon nap, or trying to, when the phone starts ringing off the hook. Our phone rings four times before it goes to the answering machine. I kept coming to and drifting off again but the bloody thing wouldn’t stop!!! Needless to say, I was a little sharp with the caller. Turns out it was an old girlfriend of mine telling me Goderich was hit by a cyclone again (1995) and I’d better get the truck in there to see if my business is all right and check on my friends to see if they are too.
I grab my camera and a few extra batteries to take picutes of the knocked down trees. I had no idea what had happened until I hit the road block coming in from the north side of town. A man that had been turned away was driving by us slowly telling us we had been hit by a Tornado.
Pete Sakes! I’ve got a darling old girlfriend that I’ve known most of my life that just happens to be a senior and a widow and her kids are both living “away.” My first priority is to get to her. I text here son and tell him to CALL his mother, rip out onto MTO road and around the back to see if I can get in by Benmiller- Absolutely NOT.
It’s about this time I start to get a clue. I see the great big hundred year old trees blocking the road. I pull another three point turn because people are sitting in their cars in the road, in shock not knowing what to do. I raced all the way around to Holmseville passing car after car.
The road blocks had been set up on the east side of town by then and I’m not having it. I deek around behind the Beer Store and I start to get a little scared. I pull over to the side of the road and try to breathe for a few seconds, not knowing what I’m going to see by continuing further.
Driving around chunks of random concrete on the road I’m looking at the blown apart evaporator plant with half of the metal sheathing just gone, water spraying up on it. I make it around downed hydro poles and smashed pieces of trees and just random “stuff” everywhere and get to the old girl’s house. She is fine and talking on the phone to her son. The only damage behind Victoria Public School is a tree across the end of the road. She and I spent the rest of the night walking the streets trying to get to my business and checking on some of our friends and my future retirement property.
If I never see some of those sites again……..it WILL be too soon. The Victoria Street United Church, the Burger Bar, the Courthouse Square, people’s homes in shambles. Trees stripped to the trunks, broken, torn and smashed laying on people’s homes, their cars and their lives. I drive home late that night probably still in shock and will be for another three days.
It’s a strange feeling, not knowing if you’ve got a job to go to tomorrow, or a week from now, or a month from now and I am completely at ends with myself, trying to act “normal.”
It’s at this point I happen to see a Facebook post from my daughter-in-law with a link to a guy looking for people to come in to town and help. The post on Facebook from Luke Elliott was actually a God send. I sent a reply to him, “Old girl with a half ton pick up, but I do have an eighteen year old son….use me” (I don’t tell many men that). That first post was what Luke called a “meet up and clean up”. I got my son out of his bed early Thursday morning and we headed in to town to meet up at the Beer Store. I’m shy, so it’s a funky thing to go around and gather up another one of my girlfriends whose house is in the worst hit part of town and ask her to come and help.
The original group only had three trucks and three chain saws and about ten people. NO plan. NO plan doesn’t matter in a disaster apparently.
We went as a group to the first place we thought needed help. They needed a front end loader so we couldn’t help, but wait, one of the guys knows a girl across the road, whose front lawn is covered with downed trees. I hadn’t intended on taking the cover off my truck box but changed my mind in a heck of a hurry once I started to understand the scope of the thing. Four days after and it still looked like that? We proceeded to cut and haul for the next three or was it four days.
Every time I went to the chipper yard I tried to take different people with me, just so they could see that thing in action. We would pull in past the guy at the gate who always let me know in no uncertain terms that they were accepting clean brush ONLY. No roof shingles, no building material of any sort. This young man was from “away”, I think he said he worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. He worked at that gate from seven in the morning until seven at night. We got to the point where I’d yell out the truck window to him “same deal”- he would laugh. Yeah lady, same deal. I never got that young man’s name but wish I had in order to send him my thanks. The morning when we first started hauling there was a mountain of brush, by the end of the day there was a mountain of mulch. Great big red dump trucks were doing the majority of the work but there were also all these little pick-up trucks and people with ramshackle little trailers using anything they could find to haul. You couldn’t always get in every time you took a load so we started parking off to the side and hopping out to help others first.
Images from that first day of hauling all the bent and broken trees away stay with me. The guy giving me the one second finger as he roared the biggest front end loader I’ve ever seen in my life right past my front bumper to push the brush back, thank you for not crushing me and for always giving me hand signals and a big, bright smile- plus the odd wink.
Thanks to the boys that came in my pick-up truck and worked their butts off so all I mostly had to do was be the driver.
To all the people that would stop wherever we were working and asking us if we wanted water, sandwiches, or home made muffins.
To the lady that put her hand over her heart and said thank- you with tears in her eyes. “You would do the same for me,” I said. To which she replied “I would”.
I will never forget that random American one dollar bill in a yard I helped to rake. Taking it to the owner of the house who said, “finders, keepers “to which I replied “ya, no” as I laid it at his feet. Whenever my faith in humanity falters and for the rest of my life, I will always remember you……..each and every one!
This amazing group of people grew from the original to include about a hundred and fifty by about the thrid day. We cleared the smashed trees, brush and firewood as best we could. We raked yards after we were done to try to give people some sense of normalcy when they looked out their windows. Not like anything would ever feel normal again to anyone that had lived through a Tornado but we did what we could, and we did our best.
I didn’t cry in those first weeks because I don’t think it had really hit me, but it was doing something to my soul. The town didn’t feel right anymore. I would cringe at the thought of going to work in town and be exhausted by it by the time I got home. Where before there was always this wonderful sense of a bustling little town, people going about their business in a usual manner it just felt wrong and the vibration was off. We were hurting and the place that we loved was hurting too.
The landscape looked wrong, it felt wrong and everything was wrong. Our landmarks were gone. Before you could see parts of houses almost like a beautiful woman half concealed by the trees, now you could see the great big whomp of everything. I helped to pick up those trees and their broken bodies and I took them to the place to be made small again, so they could go back to the Mother to regenerate her.
I live in an evergreen forest and the first time I really cried was pulling into my laneway. You go through this stretch of absolute green with 30′ spruce trees on either side like a tunnel that opens up, and there is our home. I do my best thinking with my back against and Oak tree. I do my best writing there, too. I have a favourite place I go to in my woods to meditate. There is just something about being out there. When you try to connect to who your really are and to the Mother, that’s where you get the best help, right?
There are so many stories from our residents that haven’t been told. Know that part of the loss we sustained was our trees. The privacy and comfort they provide us, the shade, shelter and play things for our children. They are part of the soul of our community as other living, breathing entities. I know in my heart that in order to help heal our community we need to heal the land. The pictures you saw of the devastation don’t even begin to give you a sense of how it feels to live, work and play in a landscape devoid of them.