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Tornado in My Neighborhood (part three)

[This entry was originally posted as a “note” on Facebook on May 25, 2011.]

Yesterday, we decided to drive around our neighborhood. We had thought, since we saw many more of the roads cleared in our immediate area, that it would be okay to do so. We drove further south on Logan than I had been on Sunday, south of Lowry Avenue. We thought that we had seen some pretty bad damage previously, but it was really nothing compared to the area between 29th and Lowry.

We shouldn’t have been there. That’s the simplest fact about our drive yesterday. Liza was driving and I was shooting video footage on my iPod, but once we got below Lowry, I put it away. I immediately felt dirty and sick. And we immediately tried to find the quickest way out of the area and out of people’s way. But the thing is that we couldn’t easily get out once we got in. The streets are not cleared there. There are still trees over the roads, there are Xcel Energy trucks everywhere, frantically working on the power lines and still attempting to clear the downed lines. The roads are narrow, only allowing one car through at a time, and sometimes only barely. The road is littered with debris even still – glass, insulation, sticks, branches, sawdust, a stray sock or t-shirt. Branches that have been sheared from downed trees are stockpiled at the curb. Vehicles crushed beyond repair sit, waiting.

People are still in their houses, even when there is little house left. One family sat perched on their stoop, while leaves rustled on their branches in the fully exposed bedroom and bathroom upstairs. The family eyed our van with contempt as we slowly slithered past. What made it worse was that we weren’t alone. Our van was only part of a caravan of sight-seers, which the neighborhood is undoubtedly sick of. It pained me to be part of this voyeuristic parade.

People were everywhere. Residents and neighbors were chatting. Assessors were writing on their clipboards. Children, who do not yet grasp the magnitude of the situation, were climbing on the fallen trees and playing tag amongst the wreckage. Families were grilling in their yard, behind the barrier forest of downed trees – the very trees that are currently crushing the homes in which they continue to live. Shelter has been offered to them, but they choose to stay in their homes for fear of being victims of the low-life scum that are stealing belongings from ravaged homes. One house had a giant plywood sign out front which read in spray paint, “I am home, and WILL protect.”

We did make it out of the terrible maze, following the four wheel drive Suburban in front of us. We got back to our house, unloaded our belongings from our Dollar Store shopping trip, took the baby in the house and got ready for the night. The power came back on. So life is back to normal at the Kollman house now. But just a few blocks south of our cozy little family, a couple blocks east, and a few more northeast, life is not even close to returning to normal.

There is natural disaster devastation in our own city, and half the people I talk to have no idea what even happened, not to mention the scope of it. Keep these people in your thoughts and prayers. Don’t drive through there. Consider volunteering or donating.

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Categories: Life, Weather

Tornado in My Neighborhood (part two)

Eric and I headed south on Logan Avenue in the Kollman minivan, toward the sirens and commotion. We summited the small hill south of where we had been and the first thing we saw was that the road was impassible. There was a literal wall of downed trees blocking the way at the far end of the block. I put the van in reverse, turned around, and went west for a block, then south again. When there was an opening, I turned east to once again get to Logan and I parked the van. It became obvious that there was no way to get around down there by motor vehicle. We would have to walk if we were going to get anywhere.

We walked south on Logan Avenue and it was a horrible obstacle course of tree trunks and crushed cars. We had to criss-cross our way through the maze, across the street and back again, just to make it down the block. What I saw there couldn’t be justified in words. I pulled out my phone and started shooting video. I’ll let the video do the talking. Although, I will say the video doesn’t truly do it justice either. I mean, when you see a roof in a parking lot, and you look around and absolutely cannot determine where it came from, that’s a pretty big deal.

By the time we got down there, there were already scores of emergency personnel doing their thing. It was quite obvious that there was really no help we could offer. We were just two members of the looky-loo parade. We headed back to the house.

Hannah and Eric left. They had to get back on the road. They called us on the way out of town and let us know it was extremely difficult getting to the Interstate, which is normally just a three-minute straight shot from our house, due to downed trees and sight-seer traffic.

We nestled in and prepared for a night without power. I mentioned in a previous entry about how I would never forget the sound of that tornado. There is another soundscape I will never forget. When the power goes out, your house goes silent. You never realize how much noise your house makes until the power is out. So on that silence, layer in the sounds of media and police helicopters. On top of that, throw in the occasional emergency vehicle siren. There were also distant voices chattering, hollering, crying. Underneath all of it was a steady drone of chainsaws, working working working to clear the road of downed trees. On two occasions that first night, I heard gunfire as well. The second night, a neighbor across the street had a generator running, powering bright work lights which were strung up around her house. It was the only beacon of light on our dark street. The loud hum of the generator was a welcome sound. We had heard tell already of looting and robberies. Most of those were taking place in the more damaged area to the south, but we were still somewhat worried. In fact, the first night in which there had been no generated light from the neighbor and the street was completely dark, someone had gone through our yard. Both our gates were hanging open in the morning. Did that person have a weapon? Did that person gaze into our windows while we were sleeping? Or did they simply want a shortcut to the alley? We didn’t know. But it did cause the occasional shudder when we thought about it. I kept my axe handy just in case. Luckily, there was no occasion to wield it.

The day after the tornado, there was a police blockade set up on Dowling and checkpoints to get in and out. They told us if we left the area, there was no guarantee we’d get back in due to gas leaks in the area. We took our chances. I went to class. Afterward, we sat outside a Starbucks and took advantage of their free wi-fi in order to check up on the latest news. When we were done with that, there was nothing left to do but go back home and camp out. We decided to grill a bunch of the stuff that was beginning to thaw in our freezer. We ate well that night. The second night was quieter and we got word that power was supposed to come back on Wednesday.

 

One thing that really struck me was how little people in other parts of the city seemed to know what had happened in North Minneapolis. To us and our neighbors, it was huge. But many (or most) of the students and teachers from my school didn’t know what I was talking about when I mentioned it. I was late for my first class due to it taking so long to wind our way through the maze of roads that weren’t blocked by trees and to get through the police checkpoint. When I explained it to my instructor, his face went blank, as if he didn’t know whether I was a bad liar or whether he had slept through the apocalypse.

Even so, the parade of looky-loos continued in North Minneapolis.

More to come.

Categories: Life, Weather

Tornado in My Neighborhood (part one)

It was a typical lazy Sunday. The previous day, we had gone to La Crosse, Wisconsin to visit with some college friends and see a show they were putting on at their community theater. We got home that night and stayed up kind of late. We slept in on Sunday and got up around 11:00 a.m., I think. We grabbed some fast food and awaited the arrival of a couple of Liza’s college friends from South Dakota who were in town and headed over for a visit. I munched on my chalupa and checked Facebook. I got an alert from a weather app that our area was in a tornado watch. “Strange,” I thought, since it didn’t look like tornado weather. I announced this weather watch to Liza, who was feeding Josiah in the other room. “That figures.”

Sometime around 2:00, Hannah and Eric pulled up and I wrangled the dogs into the bedroom. They don’t like visitors, you see, so they need to be in the other room. Just as our friends walked up our front stairs, we heard the neighborhood tornado sirens begin to sound. I looked at the sky again as we made our greetings, thinking that it just looked overcast outside. The thing is, we have heard the sirens go off in our area countless times. And when we look at the weather reports, the tornadoes are never in our area. Maybe my first clue this time should have been when I attempted to turn on the local weather and my television told me that DirecTV could not find a signal. The sirens continued to blare.

Hannah and Liza continued to chat and coo over Josiah – Hannah and Eric hadn’t met him yet. Eric and I both stepped outside to survey the weather situation. The sirens continued, but I didn’t think there was any severity near us at all. The rain had stopped, as had the breeze. It was totally calm. Liza popped her head out the door to ask what we were finding out. “Nothing,” I said. “It must not be around here.”

Then we heard it.

I mean, we heard “it.” The tornado. It was a sound I had never heard before, and a sound that I will be fine never hearing again. They always say that it sounds like a freight train. They’re right, mostly. Picture a freight train that is about three times the size of a normal train and you might be getting close. Add in the sounds of fear and destruction, whatever they sound like. If the word “ominous” had a sound, you could layer that in as well. That sound won’t leave me any time soon.

Eric heard it, too. He and I looked at each other. I looked to Liza. “Downstairs. Now.”

As I quickly rushed up the porch steps and into the house, in a calm but agitated state, I uttered, “There’s a tornado in our [expletive] neighborhood.” Liza and Hannah had Josiah and the baby puppy, and Eric headed downstairs as well. I ran to the bedroom and picked up our two girl dogs, one under each arm and had Wicket follow me to the basement. Liza went back upstairs to grab something quickly, I’m not sure what, and on her way back down the power flickered and failed. Through the basement windows we could see the sky turn green. We all just stood around and commented on the strange welcoming our visitors received. All the while, the wind whipped outside and rattled our basement windows.

I wandered over to the staircase, and I heard what sounded like a child screaming. I was terrified to my very soul. I booked it upstairs and to the front door, which I whipped open. If there was a child outside in this storm, I was going to get that child to safety. I peered outside and couldn’t see much of anything due to the density of the perfectly horizontal rain. Amongst it, I saw a greenish blur zip past the yard. I assume it was a tree branch. But it was fast. And it, too, was horizontal. And that rumble. That terrible roar. I opened the screen door to see through the watery haze on the glass to try to determine if a child indeed needed help. It was a false alarm, thankfully. What I was hearing was the stormy winds whistling through our windows, creating a high pitched, blood-curdling scream. I headed back downstairs, pronto. On the way, I grabbed my computer. Because honestly, my life is on that thing, and I rejoined my family and our visitors.

During the time that I was gone upstairs, Liza had been having text conversations with both her mother and our friend Renae. Renae told us that according to the television, there was a touchdown at Logan and 29th. We live at Logan and 37th. The sirens wound down and we went upstairs to see what was up. Within two minutes we heard emergency vehicle sirens. Eric and I went and stood in the middle of the street and peered south, toward where we had heard the tornado minutes earlier. We couldn’t see anything, but there was a hill between our house and where we had heard everything had happened. Then the sirens blew again. We went back down and then came back up a few minutes later when they subsided. We found more downed leaves and branches, but nothing too notable at all. The rain was subsiding, but a small deluge of water created an impromptu waterfall on our tall front-yard stairway.

There were more and more emergency vehicle sirens to the south. And more and more commotion coming from a few blocks in that direction. We all weighed the options. Should Eric and I head down there? On one hand if people needed help, we are two able-bodied people who would like to help if needed. On the other hand, we may get in the way of the professionals trained in such things. We erred on the side of good deeds, got in my van and headed south on North Logan. What we found was humbling and harrowing.

(Part two to follow)

** Snow ** [Episode II]

January 2, 2011 Leave a comment

The aftermath of the storm. Care for an ice cold soft drink?

Liza pointed out to me yesterday that in the summer I always complain that storms happen wherever we aren’t. I’ve noticed that in the summer, when we’re in Minneapolis, the storms always go around us, while back in our old home, Aberdeen, S.D. they’re getting them every day. Then when we come back to Aberdeen, Minneapolis gets hammered and we miss it.

Apparently this whole concept of missing the storm does not apply in winter.

As described in a previous entry on this blog, Minneapolis got a substantial storm and I personally moved a lot of snow by hand (and shovel). When this happened, Aberdeen barely had any snow at all, and certainly not a storm. A couple days ago, however, that changed.

We came back to South Dakota for the holidays with the in-laws, with plans to go to North Dakota after New Year’s to have a Christmas celebration with my family. Christmas went off without a hitch. We went to Hendicks, Minn. to see the extended in-laws, and the roads on the way back were challenging, due to freezing fog, but my father-in-law Mark navigated like a champ and spared everyone from even being nervous about the conditions.

The Johnsons are winter-outdoors people. In the following few days, much time was spent outside, doing dog chores, running dog teams, and packing down the trail on snowmobiles. They love to play in the snow, and when we come to visit, we play along. Apparently, Mother Nature likes to play, too. Because she threw a big ol’ snowball at us to close out the year. We got close to twelve inches.

The storm started on December 30. Stores and businesses were closing early and the sheriff advised no travel. People were saying once you got to where you going, you’d be there for a couple days. They weren’t kidding. It wasn’t so much the snowfall itself (that was a huge factor, obviously) but it was the drifts created by the 45 mph winds. Some roads were completely blown over, and the snow in the ditches was level with the rural roads. Visibility was nearly zero. At the Johnson house, we couldn’t even really see across the street. This, of course, made my mother-in-law Diane as giddy as a schoolgirl. She loves winter and snow accumulation and cold temperatures. In fact, she has a little snowman toy that when you press the button it says “Get out the shovel! It looks like snow!” and plays an instrumental first phrase of “Let it Snow.” Earlier that morning, we woke up to the sound of her excitedly pressing the button in anticipation of the day’s weather event.

The blizzard died down overnight, but we were told by the news not to waste time digging out just yet because there was another wave coming the next afternoon — New Year’s Eve. We had had plans to go to our friends’ house to ring in the new year, but again, mother nature had other plans. She decided to shut down civilization. Around 3:00, the walloping continued. Bars closed, parties were cancelled, and people were stranded again/still. Mark tried to leave around 6:00 p.m. to go check on his casino business to determine whether or not to close early. After all, it was New Year’s Eve and that’s normally a good night at the casino. But, the suburban didn’t make it out of the driveway. That kind of solidified that fact that we weren’t going anywhere. After trying to rock it back and forth, it became so solidly stuck in the snow that it wouldn’t move. He turned it off, and trudged back to the house.

So we had a our New Year’s celebration at home with the Johnsons. We watched an amazing sci-fi flick from 1974 called Zardoz (perhaps Sean Connery’s best work?), we had some tasty beverages (non-alcoholic for my pregnant wife), and I played “Angry Birds” on my iPod. We rang in the New Year with Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest on Eastern time and then with Carson Daly on Central time. The new year entered with a winter fury.

The next day, January 1, the sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky. As if mother nature was saying, “What? Me? Iiii didn’t do anything…”

We certainly didn’t miss this storm.

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Categories: Family, Life, Weather

** Snow **

December 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Shovelin'! Dec. 11, 2010

I grew up in the snow. North Dakota winters, South Dakota winters and Minnesota winters are all pretty much the same. These are the winters I have experienced my entire life. Through these winters, I have grown acquainted with how to dress warmly, how to use a shovel, how to drive in the snow, how to get unstuck and how to unstick others. I’ve made it through some rough winters.

But this weekend was ridiculous.

The Twin Cities received (depending on where you were in the Metro) between 17 and 21 inches of snow within a 24-hour period. During the snowfall, things got crazy. The MSP international airport closed, the Mall of America closed early for the first time in its history, the Salvation Army pulled all its bell-ringers and sent them home, Metro Transit pulled all buses because a third of them got stuck (which stranded people, including my buddy whose place of employment closed early), trucks and automobiles were going off the roads getting into wrecks, fire trucks and ambulances on their way to emergencies got stuck, highways and county roads were closed, and people were a little surprised to see the snow continually piling up as quickly as it was.

I spent most of Saturday indoors. I lit a fire in the fireplace early in the day and kept it going until bedtime. We relaxed at home, played with the dogs, listened to the baby’s heartbeat, cruised the ‘net, played some Mario Kart, watched Paul McCartney on SNL, drank some hot chocolate, and I threw in a couple beers for good measure. All the while our sidewalks and cars were slowly being buried. Both of us were looking forward to lighting a fire and enjoying the Vikings game the next day. More on that later.

I got up at 9:00 a.m., bundled myself up and headed out the door. I labored for about an hour, trying to free my car from the snowbank. I needed to move it to avoid a tow, since Minneapolis snow emergency rules were in effect. The problem was that once I got it out of its spot, it got stuck in the middle of the road. Long story short, after talking to a person from the City, I had to pretty much just shovel the street. Which I did. I got the car out and around the corner to the emergency route that had already been plowed. I shoveled the front walk, the public walk, a path on either side of the house for the mail carrier, the rear walk the side walk, I dug the van out, and I cleared the driveway. All without a snowblower. I just needed my trusty shovel and my own two hands. I finished around 6:30 p.m., and then went to help a young woman whose car was stuck in an alley.

Remember the Vikings game we wanted to watch? Well, it didn’t happen. The night before, the opponent New York Giants got re-routed to the Kansas City airport because the Twin Cities airport had closed. The plan was to have them arrive early in the morning at be at the Metrodome for a noon kickoff. That got pushed back to Monday night, however, when weather conditions weren’t improving. The weather conditions did improve. However, a bigger problem emerged. Around 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning, the inflatable roof at the Metrodome collapsed, ripping three panels of the dome and sending literally tons of snow and water cascading onto Mall of America field. Needless to say, the game will not be taking place in Minneapolis on Monday night. The NFL has moved the game to Detroit on Monday night. Strangely, Liza and I were at the Vikings/Bills game the previous week and I remember looking up at the roof and saying something along the lines of “I wonder what would happen if the roof was weighted down with too much snow?” I guess we found out.

It’s more snow than I’ve seen in a long time. It’s definitely more snow than I’ve ever moved by hand before. Really crazy stuff. But I guess that’s winter in Minnesota.

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Categories: Life, Weather