Tuesday, December 1, 2015
A wind storm hit Spokane nearly 2 weeks ago, Tuesday, November 17th to be exact. We knew the storm was coming but what we didn’t know was the damage it would deal to the city. The winds started kicking up about 1 p.m. They were strong but not too bad. Sylvia called me from school about 2:30 to tell me that the school wasn’t going to let students leave the building after school so I would have to come in to the school to get her. I went a little bit early to pick her up to miss the rush. On the way home we saw the first tree down. It was in the front yard of a house we drive by every day and was probably about 90 years old. It missed two houses by about a foot. We drove by it twice just to look at it. It was pretty amazing and lucky to not have hit those homes. We got home and watched the storm through the front window. Neighbors trash cans, flags, yard decorations and tumbleweeds were blowing down the street. Sylvia and I took turns running outside to claim our neighbors’ belongings to give back to them. Jackson arrived home on the bus and his bus driver informed me that two buses had already been hit with trees. It was getting worse by the minute. The City of Spokane directed everyone to go home at 3 p.m. The city was shutting down. Eastern Washington University, where Kevin works, also closed at 3. Kevin came home and about 20 minutes later we lost power. Sylvia was excited, it was the first time she lost power. Jackson was mostly confused about why we were living in the dark. Of all things, I was supposed to fly to Seattle that night for 2 days of meetings. I watched online as all the flights out of Spokane were cancelled, except mine at 7:30 that night. I knew it had to be canceled but the airport and airline websites both showed my flight going. So in the midst of 70 mile an hour winds, and with my family at home with no power, I headed out the airport. I felt like I was in a movie! Trees were down everywhere, I would go down a street only to be blocked by a tree, I’d go down another street and encounter another tree. The city was dark, no traffic lights, sections of fence were flying down the streets, it was raining dirt water, and every once in a while the sky would light up (another transformer blowing). I’ll be honest, I love storms! It was fairly awesome to be out in it, once I got over my fear of being out in it. Of course once I got to the airport they told me my flight was canceled, even though the airport monitors and the website still showed it was “on time”. I headed back into the storm. This time I decided to stop by our other property to see how it was holding up. That was another obstacle, trees down on nearly every street I tried. Our property was fine except for the giant branch that had fallen off our neighbors pine tree that was blocking the driveway. It had at least missed the power line. I got home to a dark house and Kevin and Sylvia playing games by the light of the lantern. We went to bed having no idea of what we would wake up to. We woke up to no electricity but enough hot water for a shower! I had rescheduled to a morning flight and we already knew there was no school or work for Kevin. I headed back out to the airport feeling really guilty for leaving my family in a home with no heat or power. What I wasn’t prepared for was what I saw that morning. I’ve never been in the aftermath of a hurricane or a tornado but my guess is that it looks pretty similar to what Spokane looked like. So many more trees were down. Power lines were hanging down on the street like string. For those of you who don’t know Spokane, we have a “Tree City” designation. Our trees are big, old and cover streets with their leaves like tunnels. I haven’t heard the final figure but I know we lost close to 400 trees that night. It was fairly heartbreaking to see the damage. There were still no traffic lights but there weren’t too many cars out. I flew to Seattle for my meetings but it was hard to focus, I was worried about my family and what we were going to do without power. I knew from the looks of it, it was going to be a while before we got it back. The utility company was saying 3-5 days for our neighborhood. That night in my hotel room I was talking to Sylvia on the phone when she suddenly screamed “Our power just came on!” I jumped up and down on the bed in the hotel room in excitement. We had only lost it for 27 hours. We were some of the lucky ones. The worst off went 11 days. Not only that but not even a week later we got our first snow storm and temperatures plunged into the teens. Many people chose to ride out the no power in their homes in those temperatures. It was brutal for them. In the end 3 people died in the storm. As far as school, well there was none. While some of the schools had electricity many didn’t. One school had two large trees fall on it. Kids walking to school would have been met with downed power lines and trees. It wasn’t safe. The kids finally went back to school yesterday. 12 days of having kids home from school, with a city that wasn’t fully functioning (banks, grocery stores, even McDonald’s didn’t have power!) was exhausting. Our streets are fairly clear and everyone has power again, but the damage is still visible. Houses with tarps over them because they lost part of their roof or a tree fell on them are a common sight. Giant trees moved to the side of the roads. Trees cut up in big chunks litter people’s yards. Bases of trees with roots sticking up 6 feet in the air with pieces of sidewalk it took out are frequently spotted. And that first tree Sylvia and I saw? Well the other old tree next to it went down too. It also missed the two houses. They are still there, untouched. The kids and I drove around two days after the storm to check out the damage. As we headed out we saw a tow truck towing an RV. A tree had fallen on it right in the middle. It looked like a bomb had gone off in it. We saw quite a few houses that took hits from trees. Some that were now unlivable. As the weeks went on utility crews from Canada, Oregon, Nevada, California and Montana invaded our town. Those men and women were our heroes. 700 of them. They worked 12 hour shifts so that they were going 24 hours a day. They missed Thanksgiving with their families so that our families could have electricity. One incredible woman drove around and delivered Thanksgiving dinner to some of them while they worked. The kids and I loved driving around town seeing all the different trucks and we made sure to yell “THANK YOU!”. Spokane is pretty big, but when something like this happens it feels like a small community. Everyone helping their neighbors. One elderly woman went without power for 7 days, when the power came on it sparked a fire in a space heater that was left on and her home quickly caught on fire. Where did she stay that night? At her neighbors’ house. On the news, she didn’t even seem to care, she was just happy to have good neighbors she said. Our city took a big hit, one with long term effects. But it made us stronger and more grateful for the things we take for granted. This Thanksgiving one of the things Kevin was grateful for was “chainsaws”. Indeed! People helping people and a strong sense of community. That is why I love Spokane.