Tuesday, April 17, 2012

And Then The Winds Came

Here it is coming over the hill.
Two free tetanus shots and a world of giving; that’s what we got out of it.  If you think there’s anything else to be had after such a disaster, you’re dreaming. Once the Weather Channel collects stories to sandwich between commercials and the government puts a pretty face on everything, they drive away and leave you with a mess. Fortunately, our friends were an enthusiastic lot showing up daily to help us clean up the tornado's mess.
Wait, you didn’t know we were hit by a tornado? Really? How could you not know? It was covered by every major publication in the township of Fritzville Indiana. Where have you been?
Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We ourselves just figured out today that we are going to have to rebuild and some decisions will have to be made.  So then, in all fairness, I should fill you in on what happened.
Here it has just left the sheep pasture and hit the river.  Note the second one coming into view.
Six weeks of chaos, five weeks of fighting the county for our neighbors, four weeks of waiting on the insurance company, two weeks of looking for a new car, ten days of living in a hotel, eight days of clean up, five days of walking the runway, three of disbelief, two days of temporary repairs, and one day’s worth of hell, is how we’ve spent our time since March 2nd. That’s when the tornado hit Lee Bottom.
One local crossroad that was devastated.
So that you won’t have to ask the same questions everyone else has, I'll just give you the answers.  When the tornado hit, I was at work and Ginger was here. Fortunately, my little AM radio was on and our local stations were doing an excellent job of reporting where it was. Basically, the tornado was coming straight for the airport. Hearing that it was heading her way, fifteen minutes before it hit, she ran across the road to a neighbors storm shelter. There she waited with our friends. Tightly secured underground, they heard it approach, whip things around, and roar past. At the time they were sure they were going to open the door to a home that was no more. Fortunately, it survived mostly intact and Ginger ran out to check on the sheep, donkey, bees, house, and pets. All of them came through unscathed except the home and the bees.
Here you can see the shop that was blown to bits.
Our house lost part of its roof and received water damage. It is still under tarp. For now we are able to live in it but not for long. The shop/garage was destroyed. Inside was all our equipment and tools. Unfortunately, it was also the place where nearly everything we do here on a daily basis happened or originated. Since it is, er, was attached to the hangar, the hangar also received a blow. One of the hangar doors was ripped off with the other three being bent beyond reasonable repair. The roof of the hangar also received damage. Amazingly, neither the Cub nor Champ inside moved; not even an inch. Weird.
Three of our trees, one of them my favorite, our prize maple sap producer, and an heirloom apple were lost. Two cars were destroyed and the one metal patio where so many event functions were held was destroyed in the process of damaging our primary tractor and another mower. Fifty feet away our log cabin was moved on its foundation resulting in everything inside being broken. Simultaneously, thirty or so plastic Adirondack chairs were shredded as three picnic tables were crushed and one was thrown 100’ through our garage door. Yep, it was a first class tornado; well, actually it was an F-something but who’s counting right?
Need we say more?
Across the road four small sheep barns were blown to bits, two sheep hutches were ripped from the ground, fencing was wadded up, and a farm wagon was tossed like a toy. Flying through the air and landing next to it was our steel dumpster from over 600 feet away. Meanwhile, tens of trees were twisted, ripped, or toppled from the ground. Dropping in randomly among this chaos were many of the things blown from the shop as its walls collapsed.
Piercing the ground evenly across every acre, tree limbs stabbed the earth leaving the appearance of a planet size porcupine. Well traveled plaster, plywood, and sheet metal fell from the sky. It was the classic tornado story. Likewise, similar to most people hit by tornadoes, we ate a significant amount of green ($). Unless you are significantly over-insured, that’s just how it goes.
Now for what we learned.
FEMA: Everyone asks about “FEMA money”. This is both hilarious and sad. Apparently, even the most well healed conservative believes or thinks the government is going to ride in to the rescue. That just isn’t the truth. In fact, what FEMA was most interested in was collecting data on families and their homes and whether or not they had any underground rooms.

After disasters like these, everyone is told to file with FEMA to see if there is any assistance available. Folks then spend twenty minutes filling out a long form which requires them to offer up all sorts of information about their lives. Finally, the very last thing you are asked is “How much do you make?” 99.99999% of the time, this income is too high to receive any “FEMA money”. In fact, the threshold for “FEMA money” is so low that you would damn near have to be homeless to qualify for it. Oddly though, before our area was declared a disaster area, FEMA, TSA, Homeland Security, and the SBA came to our home to run up the tab. What’s “the tab”?
The tornado hit the cemetery where Fritz is buried.  If you look closely you'll see his headstone slid on the foundation.
Well, to be declared a disaster area there has to be a certain dollar amount of damage done to the area. Without that level being reached, these groups don’t get money to play with. Therefore they go around looking at things that were damaged and dream up wildly inappropriate dollars amounts to assign to them. Thus they, the foxes in the hen-house, run up “the tab” in order to get additional tax money allotted to them so they can go around collecting more information on you or handing money out to people who likely didn’t have $31,000 worth of stuff to begin with. $31,000 is the max amount that was available in our area. Everyone else is told to apply to the SBA for a low interest loan.
Did you get that? The SBA helps run up “the tab” so that they can get an additional allotment of tax dollars in order to loan them back to you. That’s a nice little padding of the bureaucracy. Next door (at the one stop shop) the IRS representative tells everyone that it is very difficult to write off storm losses. Back at the FEMA desk, they tell you not to give up.
Here in Indiana, when disasters hit, our state sets up locations called “one stop shops”. These are places where everyone you might need to talk to after such a disaster is located in one place. That's where we talked to all these groups. It is also where we received the only governmental plus entry on our tornado balance sheet. What was it? We each got a free tetanus shot.
But wait, I’m not done.
Part of our cleaning crew.  Notice the trees where the tornado went up the other side of the river bottom.
Among the other lessons we learned was that we will never give to the Red Cross. This group seems to have become a mere shell of what it once was. Today our experience tells us that it serves mostly to collect information and make its donors feel like it is really doing something by offering bottled water and blankets the first day. Unfortunately for the organization, local residents, churches, and even people who traveled overnight from far away, did a far better job of both. The Red Cross was nothing more than flashy vehicles with uniformed personnel poorly attempting to do jobs done much better by others. If you love the Red Cross, we’re sorry but that’s true. In one local place, the Red Cross folks had some words with a church group. Apparently the well uniformed Red Cross soldiers didn’t like the church butting into their territory. Seriously, it was amazing how many different people brought up the Red Cross and how disappointed they were in their efforts.
FEMA, TSA, and Homeland Security are a joke. I know I know; you already knew that but hey I have a story to tell.
We were all in the middle of the clean up a day after the storm when I heard Ginger’s voice and the words “We don’t like you”. Naturally wanting to investigate such an odd statement, I walked over to see who all these people gathered around her were. You guessed it; it was FEMA, TSA, and Homeland Security, plus the SBA. When Ginger introduced me, the TSA guy said to me “So what do you think of us?” At which point I replied, “We don’t like you”. That’s when the little (literally) troll of a lady representing FEMA said in an incredibly annoying condescending shrill bureaucratic voice “Well that’s what’s great about this country; we can all have our opinions”. Then she asked us about our 8 million dollar VORTAC she heard was destroyed. If you’ve been paying attention, this is the point you should look up and too one side as if you are thinking back about something prophetic. Done correctly, above your head a memory cloud should appear, and in that cloud should be the image of me saying, with an echo to my voice “RUNNING UP THE TAB running up the tab running up the tab”. Fortunately for the FEMA lady, the TSA guy spoke to me again at which point I recognized him. Not knowing from where, I asked. He had worked with the police department (don’t ask) and he said “Well, I don’t really like TSA either but labeling me as TSA was the only way we could get money to fund my position”.
Did you get that one? Yep, the hits just keep on coming. If I need to explain, you should just go back to filling out your TSA application.
Here you can see a few of the holes in the hangar roof.
Despite our conversation, it took us a full week to get them to accept the fact our $500 Davis weather station was not worth 8 mil.  Ultimately, their estimated dollar damage to our house was equal to the insurance company’s estimate on everything we lost (debate that among yourselves), and our FEMA numbers helped the area be declared a disaster. Yes, that's right, ur house helped FEMA, TSA, Homeland Security, and the SBA gain funds that we did not qualify for unless we were willing to pay them interest. Hmmmmm. Are you starting to understand why so many places today are labeled “disaster areas”?
As for the real help, located in each county were several food banks that were actually more like miniature Wal-Marts sans weird people. Everything you could ever need or want was available in abundance for free to anyone hit by the tornado. Food, cleaning supplies, water, storage containers, diapers, you name it they had it. Most or all of these were located in churches and the people running them were wonderful. It was such an amazing sight I asked them where it all came from. The answer? It came from individuals and business owners. Not one item in the storehouse was government supplied and they were having serious problems getting much of it to those hit by the storm. The biggest problem being that the people of our area are proud people who insist on taking care of themselves. Therefore, the biggest effort went toward getting them to understand that others wanted to help and this was how they were doing it and that it wasn’t a handout. It was a gift from nameless friends. Seeing that example of giving almost makes me tear up with pride from writing about it. We live in the greatest country in the world with the greatest people who ever lived.
Other forms of giving also impressed us. The Lions Club is apparently well experienced and skilled at disaster relief. Their method was the best. Direct and easy, this organization went to great lengths to find out who had been hit by the storm and then they gave gift cards to those people in an effort to help them clean up or rebuild. Similarly, some churches had locations where those affected by the tornado could pick up gift cards. Although there were a few random cards from different businesses in the mix which were donated, the vast majority of gift cards we saw or heard of were donated by Wal-Mart. Remember that the next time you slam this retailing giant.

When it comes to us specifically, Girls Inc, a group for which Ginger is a board member, sent us a Lowe’s card which was extremely useful. They also gave us a card for our favorite sandwich shop which was a perfect gift. Having never been through something like this, most people do not have the knowledge of what is really needed and when. Everyone wants to hand out water, and although that is useful, there are many other things you can do that would better benefit those affected by such a disaster.

After a storm, many people are without livable homes. Therefore, restaurant cards offer a welcome respite from what’s just happened. Likewise, a card from a place like Lowe’s is extremely handy. Gas cards are also a great idea as long as a family’s cars aren’t destroyed. Yet, even then if they are borrowing a car or being offered rides, it gives these people a way to get themselves around by also not feeling as though they are taking too much. I can tell you from experience, pride does come into the mix and despite the fact everyone wants to give, it is often hard to feel as though you are not just taking. Gift cards offer a way for people affected by a disaster to give back to the community while getting the things they so desperately need.
One unique example of kindness came from a guy in Indianapolis who owns a billboard company. Today’s billboards are printed on material that can best be described as mega-tarps. Super strong and wear resistant, once each specific advertisement has run its course and been pulled down from the sign frame, they are often sold to farmers or other folks as tarps. This gentleman brought a truck load and gave them to people who could use them on their homes or whatever. The idea of a used sign being handy seems odd on the surface but in the end they were extremely useful to many people.
And I can’t forget Wolverine. This company dropped off a load of waterproof shoes and boots for anyone affected by the storm. They were set out at the Chelsea General Store and as people came through, they sorted through them, found what they liked, and off they went with a new pair of kicks.
In this photo you can see the path of the tornado, to the horizon, by following the smoke from burning debris piles.
But back to those proud people; A few days after FEMA first showed up they came around again to look for more damage dollars. While here, that little whiney lady actually complained about how quickly people were getting the clean up done. Yeah, our extended neighbors were not making these government folks look good.  With nobody groveling at the feet of FEMA, it became obvious they were a little put off by it. That’s your government; upset that there are still people who can take care of themselves.
Thankfully, not everything was bad about this storm. To start with, our friends Mike and Crystal Korff were very helpful. I was flying with Mike when I learned of the tornado strike. About the same time, not knowing we had been hit, Crystal sent Ginger this light hearted text, “Isn’t it great the guys always leave us at home for these storms”? Ginger was able to get into her smashed car, hook her phone up to the charger, and call her back to let her know we’d been hit. After that, Crystal ran out to buy tarps and started making her way to our place through multiple turns and back-road switchbacks. There was so much stuff lying everywhere, I’m still not sure how she made it. When Mike and I landed back in Louisville that night, he rode home with me in case there was something he could do to help and to then catch a ride home with Crystal.
A power tranmission tower up on the hill from us that was blown over.
After the tornado, over thirty people from all over creation appeared to help us clean up. Friends far and wide arrived to put in time helping us in our time of need. Most of them surely had better things to do and most of them likely had important things to do. Yet all of them came that day to help, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day. For a full week people did their best to help. One friend drove from five hours away, others flew in, and quite a few of my co-workers even came to help. Wherever, whomever, or for whatever reason they came, they were and still are greatly appreciated.
As for other positives, thanks to the storm we now know many more of our extended area neighbors. They are a widely varied bunch of good people and we’ve enjoyed our time with them despite the terrible circumstances. This is a story in itself that we will tell you about in the future. Therefore, let me wrap this up.
Right now, we are seriously struggling with how to move forward. Enough damage has happened to make significant rebuilding necessary but what and how to rebuild is the question. Nearly everything we have is damaged to the point that bulldozing and rebuilding would be equal to repairing yet doing so would pretty much put us out of commission for a long time. On the other hand, repairs are just repairs despite the benefits of shorter finish times. Whatever we do we’ll have to redo plumbing, wiring, concrete, and the well; all of it. Like so many other things, to look at the damage it doesn’t look that bad. But with a little understanding of the details, it becomes a nightmare. The decisions yet to be made are not easy. And yet we came through much better than others. Some of the people in our area lost family members and every square inch of their homes.


Anonymous said...

All of us in the flying community are deeply sorry for those of you in that area who suffered so much loss. I have never had the pleasure of landing at Lee Bottom but may have to in the near future. I read your comments about government assistance with an appreciation of the point to which our relief agencies have deteriorated. There is a shrinking percentage of what goes in that comes out, while those agencies grow in size and power. Thank goodness we still have religious groups, businesses, and philanthropic people who step up to the plate. God bless all of you there, and may you recover soon.
Ed Rusch
Union County Ohio Airport

Historic Tunnel Mill said...

Please remember that you have friends in the historical community as well. We are just up the road and if there's anything we can do to help, just let us know. We'd be happy to come help for a couple work-days or something. My family and I have enjoyed many trips to the September fly-in and Lee Bottom is one of the greatest treasures in our area. Please keep us informed as to your plans and progress. We'd be happy to lend a hand.

Nathanael Logsdon
Historic Tunnel Mill
(812) 606-1264

Erika said...

So sorry to hear the news! Please know that good thoughts are coming your way from Florida! Keep the news flowing.

Erika Wiggins
Orlando/Apopka Airport (X04)

Skywagon said...

Greetings from the West... And, very sad to read of your costly weather damages. So many of our vintage aircraft and flying sites are very difficult to reconstruct after damages like these. Your story certainly points to the growing fact that most of our so-called govern. assistance agencies are no more than "shells" for hiring more govern. workers that do nothing but fill out paper forms, act important and write rules with nothing done to help folks with any real economic assistance.

Gary Williamson said...

I have never been to Lee Bottom Flying Field but somehow a few years back I got on your mailing list for your news letter and love reading about your events, trials and tribulations. I did not like reading about the tornado and all of your losses however.

I am very glad to hear that there were no injuries or loss of life to your wife and your animals. The bees will return.

I have always thought it would be an adventure to fly my 1956 Tri-Pacer out there someday, and who knows I just may do it one day.

I live on a large lake called Clearlake, which is in Northern California and have never experienced a tornado and hope I never do. We have had our share of earth quakes, but not to the damage extent you experienced.

I would like to help the only way I can and would like to donate a few dollars to help you rebuild. Please post where donations can be sent.

I wish you all the best in your recovery.

Gary Williamson
Lakeport, California, 95453