As I sat reading the Custer County Chief that arrived in the mail Friday, the usual television programming was interrupted by a weather warning. “Not again!” I thought. We have been getting so many weather warnings that it is becoming boring. As I looked out the window, the skies looked fairly clear to me. The warning was from west of Omaha, closing in on Elkhorn. Surely this was nothing.
I got tired of hearing about this little blip on the weather map. It was red in the center, but very small, surrounded by yellow and green. Why were they making such a big deal about it? I wanted to read the paper and watch “Jeopardy.” (How OLD do I sound?!)
The Custer County Chief had had a fire and I was surprised to read about it. I thought to myself, “I need to put that on the blog and let everyone know.” Suddenly, the tornado sirens went off. “What??” The skies looked fairly clear to me. The weather reporter “on the scene” at Memorial Park alerted people that the siren was sounding. (I guess they didn’t hear the loud wailing in the background.) People were perplexed. What were they suppose to do? They were out at Memorial Park with their blankets and coolers, waiting for the free concert with “Kool and the Gang” to start and the fireworks to end the evening. There were lots of open air activities going on that evening so many people were outside preparing for the fun evening. The Arts Festival was set up downtown with artisans and vendors sitting in their booths as people strolled through the displays. Midtown, the Shakespeare-on- the-Green patrons were showing up for the play that would begin in a couple hours. Yet, the sirens wailed.
Finally people took it seriously and headed for the shelter of their cars. Meanwhile, Dennis and I sat fixed to our couch, still waiting for Jeopardy to come on. Mike and Anna were in the basement, watching television after a busy day of band and hanging out with friends. Anna had a swim team party soon and we were going to drop her off for it. The sirens wailed. The reporter said the sirens were going off early so that people in the outdoor venues would seek shelter. OK. Fine. Let’s get back to Jeopardy!
A loud “pop” and then black. No lights, no television, no humming air conditioner. Oops! Maybe we should head for the basement! We scurried around looking for the flashlights and a radio with batteries. Our “weather cat” quickly slinked to the basement. Her “GI Joe” stance is a sign to us that bad weather is approaching.
Loud rain, wind and hail and it was over. We were in the basement less than 20 minutes. We ventured out to see the damage. The sirens had stopped. Our street looked like a rushing river. Tree branches were down, but it didn’t look too bad. Just a typical Midwestern summer hailstorm, right?
Unbeknownst to us yet, further down Meadow Road huge trees lay across houses, uprooted, large root balls exposed. Two neighbors evaluated the damage as they looked, stunned, at the giant oak trees that now lay across the roofs of their houses, smashing down the eaves and ripping shingles. One tree totally smashed the garage and car inside. Trees split in two. One tree narrowly missing the house nextdoor, propped up by an intact pine tree.
We were lucky. All we had were a couple big branches and lots of leaves and twigs to pick up.
As we drove to Anna’s house (the swim party was cancelled), we were dismayed to see stoplights totally twisted around, some facing the opposite direction from what they were suppose to be. Most traffic lights were out, making driving tricky as drivers vied for position. Most drivers were patient, but some jerks felt they had the right-of-way no matter what!
That night was very eerie. Pitch black. I lay in bed and thought how this would be a perfect opportunity for a burglar. At 4 am, I got up and went downstairs to read my book by flashlight. I noticed a flashlight shining outside our neighbor’s house. A burglar?! I had my flashlight on. He had his on. Turns out it was our neighbor and we were spooking each other!
Day 1 Still no power. I ventured out, seeking supplies. We needed batteries and ice. None found at the grocery store. None left at Menard’s. People were buying power generators like hotcakes! We refused to be that pessimistic and believed we might have to endure a few more hours without electricity. I went to the dry ice place (Arctic Glacier) to see about buying dry ice to keep the refrigerator cold. The line was over 2 blocks long. I finally found some batteries, a portable tent fan to circulate air and some ice after braving the wild streets of Omaha. Some streets were blocked due to downed power lines or large trees. Everywhere the sound of chainsaws could be heard. The routes I took were very circuitous. Once home, I was reluctant to go out again. It was just too crazy out there! (Not quite “Mad Max” but…)
I notified our neighbors that I had meat in the side-by-side freezer that I was going to grill that night. “So everyone come over and we’ll eat whatever I have in my refrigerator!” I grilled six bratwursts, a package of hotdogs, four hamburgers, two steaks, two chicken breasts and a piece of fish. The neighbor across 114th St called and said she had power, so we moved the party to her house where it was cool. She also opened her freezer to those of us who had other things that we would want to save.
Dennis said we shouldn’t open our deep freeze because the food should be good for 2-3 days. He covered the freezer with a couple blankets and we left it alone.
Day 2 Sunday. Getting ready for church we debated when to go. If the church had air conditioning, we could go early and cool off. If it didn’t, we would be in a very warm church and become more uncomfortable. As it turned out, it was cool. We met a couple who asked us about our power situation. They had power and offered to let us stay with them. I told them we might take them up on it later, but, so far, the weather had cooperated and the nights had been cool. We ate at Wendy’s fastfood, then went to a movie to stay cool. We were kind of testy that evening, talking about having to eat out all the time, how much money we were spending to keep cool, etc. We clearly had different ideas about how we should handle the situation. We got ready for bed with our portable fans blowing warm air in our faces and our flashlights nearby in case we had to get up.
I thought about the four boxes of Omaha Steaks in the deep freeze. I wondered if it was too late to move them. Maybe I would take them to work tomorrow and put them in the freezer there. “No,” I thought. “I think it will be dicey to leave them overnight.” I told Dennis my plan to take them to a neighbor’s house who had power. He said, “Whatever.” So, Mike and I took the steaks out. They were starting to lose the frosty layer that Extention Agents tell you is a good sign that the meat can still be saved. We rushed them over to Sherry’s house and she put them in her freezer. She also said, “What are doing with curlers in your hair?” I told her I worked in the morning. Sherry, who has a beauty shop in her home, said, “Get those curlers out! Come over before work tomorrow and I will fix your hair.” Sherry was in her “save-the-people” mode and you can’t refuse her when she’s like that!
(Digression: Sherry is the person who held the Christmas shower for us when our basement was flooded a few summers ago. She is quite the friend.)
Day 3 After Sherry made me beautiful, I went to work. All three of us (Dennis, Mike and I) worked so we were in cool environments and much happier when we got together after work. Sherry told us to come over for dinner Monday evening after work and “Bring your laundry!” She invited two other couples who were also without power. We feasted on delicious roast beef sandwiches, salads and ICE CREAM dessert! Afterwards, we played cards. When our laundry was done, we headed home. “Come back tomorrow morning before work, and I’ll do your hair again!” (Sherry refused to take any money for doing my hair.)
Day 4 I was really getting emotional by then. Sleep-deprived, I woke up and cried when I realized we faced another day without electricity. The weather report wasn’t good either. It was suppose to be a hot night. We called our friends from church who had volunteered their home to us. “Is the offer still good?” They told us to come for dinner and spend the night. Grateful for the hospitality, but tired of depending on others, we met at their house for dinner. We had an enjoyable dinner, then sat around visiting. Dennis decided he would go back to the house and maybe spend the night at home. The cats needed to be fed anyway. Mike just wanted to watch a Cubs game. He was having television and baseball withdrawal. I just wanted to sleep! Dennis drove back to the house around 9:00. Shortly after, my cell phone rang. It was him. I thought, “He must have changed his mind and he’s coming back.” But…instead…”We have power!” Mike and I almost jumped up and down, cheered aloud. Our hospitable friends told us we “looked like Christmas morning!” We felt like we had never heard such good news! We packed up our things and headed home. At last, we had a good night’s sleep in our own bed in our own air-conditioned house.
It is amazing how many things we take for granted when we have power. This outage was a reminder to us all. It also is amazing what friends do. I am so grateful for all our friends and neighbors who helped us out and those who gave us words of encouragement. We are so blessed.