Thursday, July 1, 2010

Terror In Trailerville

When last I posted I posed the question: "What next?" In the weeks, even months, since then most of what happened was making sure that the family business was all in order after dad's death. It was a somber task and a consuming challenge- especially in light of trying to get things done quickly rather than over the years that such things often require. While trying to accomplish all this, we pretty much stayed at the house. The coach was in the shop for a while undergoing the body work that needed doing from the previous trip to Pennsylvania when a tow truck cracked the frond end of the rig while hauling it in to repair a broken antifreeze line. But most of the time, it sat unattended in a campground just waiting for our very occasional visits to check that everything was going OK. Problem was it wasn't always going OK. A back flow preventer in the water line got a tad fussy and allowed salt water from the softener system to circulate through the coach. I suppose a saltwater shower is an all right kinda thing but as drinking water it's the pits. This happened not once, but twice during our prolonged stay at the house. On yet another visit to the coach, we arrived to find that the super fancy side by side refrigerator freezer that can run on electricity or propane decided that it was no longer prepared to work so hard if no one was going to be around to appreciate it- so it stopped- taking with it several hundred dollars worth of meat and produce that was stored in the unit. Turns out those reports of 3500 dollar repair jobs on RV fridge cooling units are very true indeed.We could have lived with that. It was the mold and the melty, slimy, nasty juice and warmed up funk that we could have lived without. Having to deal with that at a time like this, or anytime for that just plain WRONG. But you play with the hand you are dealt, unless of course you are willing to fold and walk away. I wasn't made like that, which I suppose is the best reason I don't play poker. Bluff was never my strong suit.

But all these things are tolerable, if barely so. Trouble takes your breath for a time but hardly ever stops you from breathing. But on our last visit to check the coach we got more than would let you keep breathing for a time and made the heart race way faster than it was ever intended to beat.

There had been severe thundershowers in the area. The Pennsylvania days had been heated to the 90's and the humidity was typically high and heavy. But as we turned into the fields of corn that are the approach to the Thousand Trails Preserve in Hershey (it's actually Lebanon, but called Hershey camp), we got our first glimpse of the trouble that lay ahead. The corn stalks were stripped like tassels on a graduation cap. First there were fields that were not like this...and then all of a sudden the fields were all like this. Across the corn field by the tree line there were branches on the ground first. Than small trees. Then larger trees and branches. Road signs warned of danger and closed areas. What was going on here? We had a bad bad feeling as we turned into camp. Trees were down everywhere- some broken but many out of the ground root ball and all. Signs were where they didn't belong. Roofs were missing from structures that had them just days prior. Debris was scattered in every direction and with no rhyme nor reason. Bad storm? For sure. TORNADO!

Once the authorities arrived at camp to assess the situation, it was declared that the storm had been an EF-0 tornado. As tornadoes go that is a small one - 80 mile an hour winds in rotation. Lesson learned: Never want to be in a big one! Or at least never want to be AWAKE when a big one hits. There was plenty of damage to camp. Power out and lines down. Water off line. Sewer plant damaged beyond immediate use. The effort was on cutting downed trees so the rigs that could still move could be evacuated. It was reported that at least 40 of the rigs in camp could not be moved. They had not been picked up and slammed back down as they surely would have been in a bigger tornado. But a giant oak or maple laying across or alongside your rig makes it realty hard to drive down the road. Trust me; I've been there, done that.

If there was good news in the mix, it was certainly the fact that absolutely no one in camp was harmed, including the young family staying in the cabin directly in front of us, which was unfortunately the final resting place of the tree in front of us as well. As the winds were swirling it could just as easily have landed on us. Grateful we are! But there was bad news as well. An adjacent horse farm that raises thoroughbreds had twenty six of their horses cut badly when the barn collapsed and another three that were mauled so badly they had to be put down immediately. The owner of the farm was himself trapped in the barn but was evacuated with only modest wounds.

Family's and neighbors who experienced the late afternoon storm first hand reported it was the scariest thing they had ever experienced. They spoke about the noise. They spoke about the fear that they would have their rig rolled over or be crushed under all the trees coming down. They spoke of the rain that didn't fall at all because it was going sideways. They spoke and then they feel strangely silent as the thoughts of the storm were maybe too much to cope with at the moment. Ten minutes of terror had created a lifetime of concern. We have experienced as much with the nine, yes 9, hurricanes that we have gone through- everything from a Cat 1 to a Cat 5.

Somewhere hence around a late night campfire there will be tales to tell of the tornado that attacked the campground near Hershey. Of the fear that huddled campers in the corners of their all too flimsy rigs. Of feelings that were felt for the first time ever. Of the will to survive and carry on.....

There was one, and only one, as best we could tell, among the campers at the meeting the next day, who was unhappy with the response. I have no idea where he was coming from. That group of campers and rangers whipped out their chain saws, their shovels, their ladders and tackled that debris with the same ferocity that the storm had come in to camp. And a person who saw the camp on day two or even day three after the storm would have had no idea exactly what damage had been done. Campers are a determined lot; gypsies with an attitude. For tomorrow - we will move way or another. And that is as it must be in life.


Mark and Chris said...

Been checking your blog for updates since early May. With no updates, we figured you were both still tied up with your dad's affairs. Thankfully you survived the tornado....boy what a close call! Glad things appear to be coming together for you...finally. Check our blog for the story of how our Vue decided to go for a drive....all on it's own...while we were returning from Cape Breton.

Wishing you both good health and safe travels.

Jerry and Mary said...

Just checked in with your blog. So sorry to hear about your dad -- and then to have to deal with the aftermath of that tornado -- and the missing ivory tusk is really a shame. (We were the ones who passed through Chicken and didn't realize you were still there last year.) We are now full time, but just prior to leaving, we had a storm pass though our town causing a large tree fell on our house, which delayed our departure.
Stay safe and happy traveling.