I’m sure it was just coincidence -- I sure hope so -- but it seemed like some kind of major or unusual emergency happened around Albion whenever I left the area for any reason. I was a young firefighter/EMT back then, and practically lived at the fire station, so it killed me to miss even a minor call. But I’d go off for a few days to Ohio, or for a week to Michigan or Kentucky, and return to find something had made the news.
One year it was a small plane crash; another year, a car burst into flames after crashing during a vehicle pursuit. (Honest, those things don’t happen often in real life.) One time my family arrived in Albion to find the fire department just cleaning up from a fire that gutted the apartment I used to live in, back when I first moved out on my own. On July 14th, 1992 -- my birthday -- we were returning from vacation in Michigan when we discovered Kendallville had been hit by a tornado, and my fire department was one of several that had been called in.
Let’s hope that crap’s not starting up again.
As I write this I’m still in southeast Missouri, 520 miles or so from Albion, grasping through cell phone and dial-up internet for any information about what’s going on in my home town. It’s killing me. I’m not a gung-ho young rookie anymore, but I am a firefighter, town council member, and newspaper reporter, and in all three areas it stinks to be sitting on the sidelines.
Yes, I’m aware of the irony that my home town has received storm damage twice in one week, only days after I signed a contract to publish a novel called Storm Chaser -- which is set largely in Noble County and starts with, yep, a storm. “Excruciatingly ironic”, is how my fiancee put it. This kind of publicity I’d just as soon do without.
We’re down here to attend a wedding, and I was on the way to the groom’s mother’s home when my oldest daughter texted me to say northeast Indiana was under a tornado watch. It didn’t overly concern me; it seems like we’re always under a watch of some sort. Tornado watch, thunderstorm watch, flood watch, primary election season watch -- there’s always some annoying and inconvenient watch coming down the pike.
The home we were headed for had high speed internet, and after several days without that I was in an advanced stage of withdrawal. But by then Charis was calling to say the tornado sirens were going off and she was in the basement, so my first internet stops were local news and radar sites. It looked bad. Really bad.
Noble County was involved in two separate tornado warnings, as a bow shaped line of storms roared through the area. One appeared to be hitting the northern part of the county, and Charis reported to me that a tornado might be on the ground in the Rome City area. I told her that would likely pass north of her Kendallville home, which was more of a hopeful guess than anything else. At the same time, there was another report of possible funnel clouds going through southern Noble County, and that one looked like it would encompass more of the area.
It was a long night. In fact, it could be argued that people get involved in emergency services exactly so they don’t have to go through the
waiting game, wondering what’s going on and unable to do more than tune around the TV and radio stations. Did I mention how much that stinks?
The stink only strengthened when my brother texted me, saying he’d heard Albion got hit hard. I called my mother, who lives in Albion: busy signal. Five times I called. Busy signal. I’d forgotten that her phone service goes off if the electricity’s out, and I’d also forgotten that she had a cell phone.
After that, as they always say on the news when disaster strikes, reports started coming in bits and pieces. My daughters, other relatives, and even Facebook reports added up to not fun stuff going on. Albion was entirely without power; the town was under a state of emergency; the Red Cross had been called in; the cemetery was hit directly by a funnel, and there was damage down the length of Main Street; someone was trapped when a tree fell on their car.
Upset as I was not to be there in a volunteer capacity, I was also glad not to be at my full time job on the Sheriff’s Department; I don’t have to check, to know dispatch was swamped. In addition to all the calls of power outages and trees down, there are always misguided (that’s the nice term) people who seem to think emergency dispatchers have some kind of advanced knowledge of severe weather, even though most of the time we’re getting our information from local news sources, doppler radar and the Weather Channel, just like everyone else. But that’s okay: In the middle of a storm dispatchers are never busy, and have all sorts of time to answer the fifteenth 911 call of “Is there a tornado warning”. Yeah, sure.
That, of course, is why I didn’t call dispatch for updates. As of tonight (it’s early Friday at the moment), I still don’t know if my own home is damaged, but the New Era offices a block away have power and I haven’t heard of anyone being hurt. The contents of my fridge are apparently safe, and I’m thinking of trying a dose of someone’s Xanax.
Just to be on the safe side, for my next week of vacation I’ll stay close to home ... and my next book will not be about any form of natural disaster.