Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more…

By now most of you (at least those who read this blog) will know that on Sunday, August 21st at about 4:00 p.m.  an F3 tornado blew through the centre of the town of Goderich and on to the nearby hamlet of Benmiller.  What follows is a personal account of the event and aftermath in word and picture.

Context

The day before the tornado we travelled to Ajax to attend a baby shower for our son (Peter) and daughter-in-law (Aleks)… they are expecting their second child in October.  We would have stayed over until Sunday except that Peter had been feeling quite ill and we decided to return to Goderich late Saturday.  We picked up the dogs (the grrrls) early Sunday morning and paid a visit to Black’s Point (a quiet beach) on the way back from the kennel.  While walking along the shore Jane noticed a water spout out on the lake some distance to the south.  We were intrigued but a little uneasy at the sighting.  Fortunately it dissipated after a short while and we made our way home.  In the afternoon we each decided to engage in a little creative activity- Jane doing a drawing and me playing the piano.  Now, at first blush, this sort of thing might be regarded as typical for us.  In fact, neither of us spends as much time on such undertakings as we should (tyranny of the should).  But, on this day, that’s what we were doing.  In fact, I think I was just starting to play Darlin’ by the Beach Boys (see Brian Wilson post in my June archive).  Below is a recreation of that moment…

As I played I noticed that it had started to rain and that the wind was blowing…  I turned back to the piano briefly but then noticed things going by the window (out the corner of my eye) and decided that perhaps I should tell Jane.  She was noticing the same things from her vantage point upstairs and began calling me.  We immediately headed to the basement but, by the time we both reached it, much of the worst of the storm had passed.

In its wake…

As soon as we had ascertained that things had calmed weatherwise, we stepped outside to see exactly what had happened.  The sound of police, ambulance and fire sirens filled the air and the street was strewn with limbs, trees and debris.

We ventured out from the house and across the street.  Soon the magnitude of the storm became apparent…

The roof had been torn from Victoria Street United Church.
The Credit Union building was badly damaged.
The drug store had most of its windows blown in and the (roof) a/c units were sitting in the parking lot.
The Goderich Grill and Burger Bar down the street had collapsed.
Large objects (like trailers) were tossed about.
Not the time for a car wash...

As we surveyed the damage the unmistakable smell of leaking gas was emanating from the centre of town and so we hastily retreated to our own street…

Even back home things looked a bit messy...

Strange days indeed…

Once home again,we circumnavigated our house to assess its condition.  Some crushed eavestroughing, several cracked windows, a downed section of fence… our preliminary assessment was that we were very fortunate… we had been spared any significant damage.  We walked up to the corner (Victoria Street… location of Tim H’s) in order to check the condition of our metal roof… which you may remember had been newly installed last October.  From that vantage point it appeared sound.  We began our return but noticed in the grass by Tim’s a chimney cap.  Now this is a relatively heavy metal item and it looked quite familiar…

The prodigal has returned…

 

We looked up at our chimney and realized that the cap had (somehow) become airborne during the tornado and ended up half a block away.  We also discovered (in our yard) a badly bent  fluorescent light fixture which had journeyed from some unknown location.

 
 
 
Feeling disconnected...

(By the way, the corrugated plastic wasn’t ours either…)

Surprisingly, most of our plants and pots were intact… although we did lose a fairy sign (Leave room in your garden for the fairies to play)… perhaps kidnapped by a disgruntled gnome.  In any case, as we looked at the decimation of our neighbour’s large (formerly) well-treed back yard (about a dozen large shade trees felled/one of them leaning against their house), we appreciated again our good fortune.

That appreciation was underscored as we travelled about the town’s central area in the coming days.  One of our first dog walks took us to Harbour Park, the site of the recent Celtic Festival (see previous post).  As we stepped up to the entrance we were met with this…

Not a pretty sight...
 

Just for a moment you reflect that exactly two weeks before the tornado struck we were sitting under the canopy of trees which now is reduced to…

 

Note the festival's main stage in the background...
 

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One cannot minimize the terrible cost of these events- one person was killed and a number of others injured.  But when you walk about the town (… as we will do pictorially in the final section of this post), you are struck by how much worse this all could have been if it had occurred at a different time and with an alternately located affected population.  That it didn’t happen during Sunday morning church services.  That it didn’t happen during a normal business day in the core.  That it didn’t happen during one of the town’s almost constant weekend summer events.  That the regular Sunday flea market in the square had (for the most part) ended.   

I believe C.S. Lewis once commented how that one should be cautious about simply “praying for a miracle” because miracles tend to be observed in the presence of some form of tragedy or crisis.  Given that this unanticipated crisis blew through as it did when it did, we may be also witness to an unexpected miracle in its aftermath.   

 

to be continued

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2 thoughts on “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more…”

  1. Wow ! thanks for your time and effort in sharing! Today on Day of discovery the topic was the miracle behind the miracles Jesus performed.
    The behind the scenes miracles that many will be recounting will be countless in Goderich too!
    My nephew is putting a second story room on his house in Waterloo and every storm that heads in – over us and on to KW I pray for their safety! Think prayers went up for you to, knowing your folks .
    Thank goodness for the safety of the people as you noted!!
    I’ve been to the Celtic festival once – the destruction of the trees is so sad
    these scenes still take ones breath away.
    Thanks again for sharing Would you mind if i shared this with my friend who took me to the festival a few years ago. ?
    Mennonite disaster Service is well organized from much service in tornadoes in the states
    Back in the 50’s the first really really big Ontario tornado hit Embro – My sister was graduating from Goshen Indianna , on our way there Dad just had to go by way of the aftermath a week latter, He had gone To the Mennonite college in Heston Kansas 1918, Never did he believe he would ever see anything like that in Ont.!! Thanks again Elaine.

    1. Thanks for your note… certainly, if your friend is interested, s/he is welcome to read the blog. One can read or see pictures of natural disasters but you gain a certain sensitivity to the plight of others (such as the hurricanes/storms currently raging through the states/east coast) after seeing/experiencing such an event firsthand.

      Bruce

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