Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Clean Up

This is the third and last installment of the memories of a teenager as a tornado went through Alpine Township on Palm Sunday, April 11, 1965.
Looking back I think that we were all in a daze, and may have thought everything that had happened to us had been a bad dream. But before the day was over, we began to realize that it was real. There was an immediate response from the neighboring community as the National Guard and neighboring law enforcement agencies showed up to assist. In addition to looking for injuries, they sealed off the area and would no longer permit anyone to enter an area stretching from 3 Mile to 7 Mile, and from Baumhoff to Alpine. We too, were asked to secure our area, but how exactly would you do that in the rubble? That night, my family slept at Norma’s house. I still remember laying in Norma’s bedroom, with no power and no heat. The temperature had dropped dramatically that evening, I recall seeing the flashlights of looters as the appeared across the field behind the damaged homes. It had not taken long for the word to spread. It frightened and saddened me to see that there were greedy people in the world, while we had lost everything. Then my mind would drift and think about our protectors, the emergency teams, the many volunteers who stood guard over our torn and scattered property that night, and many nights to come.

Monday, the very next day after the tornado, the weather had turned cold and the skies were now filled with wintery clouds, hinting that snow was on the way. Gone were the thoughts of summer fun that had teased us so bad the day before. Our mind now became occupied with the results of the damage, how everything was going to get cleaned up, if we would ever recover our most valuable possessions, and if we could ever rebuild all that we had. The clean up started that day. First we searched our own property, looking for anything salvageable. Mud, dirt and insulation were plastered to everything. There was hardly anything that had gone unscathed. The very Saturday after the tornado, the day before Easter, hundreds of volunteers came out to help search and pick up debris on our neighboring farms. Even with good intentions, they were hampered by a blanket of snow that had covered the fields. Clean up continued throughout the summer. Every object, every piece of paper that we ran across was carefully examined, to make sure it was not something of value, sentimental or otherwise, that belonged to a neighbor. It was almost a ritual, one we wanted to do to remove all evidence, to deny that a disaster had struck our community.

Despite all the destruction, there had only been one death reported in our community, a salesman who had rented a room at the Swan Inn, less than half a mile from our home. Somehow our thoughts were not as much with him and his family as with our own.

I returned to school on Monday after Easter. We lived in a trailer park that summer. Tornado alerts caused fear and angst that summer, and saw us seek shelter in the Fire barn across Alpine Avenue many times. The Red Cross brought food and clothing. The Sunday after Easter our streets were opened again but when so many gawkers began to show up that we could not even get out of our own vehicles in and out of the street, they were closed once again.

These are some of my immediate recollections of the Palm Sunday Tornado. It is one of many stories.

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