On Saturday April 16th I had agreed to take part in a fashion show as part of the Raleigh celebration of Earth Day, and to sell my clothing along with other designers under the umbrella of Redress Raleigh, an organization dedicated to promoting sustainable and ethical fashion. This was to be the first in a series of markets in which I plan to sell and promote my spring/summer designs.
The day started off as days like this do, with an early start, lots of coffee, chores, the news. Double check I have everything packed: clothes, hangers, signage, an inventory sheet, rack etc. I watched the weather forecast with trepidation – severe storms were moving in with high winds predicted.
Somehow I downplayed the phrase ‘possible tornado’s’ in my mind and focused instead, with cautious optimism, on the break in the rain. This was supposed to occur late morning to early afternoon, just when our show was scheduled.
Kirk and I loaded up the car and headed over to the Redress Raleigh booth. One of the organizers agreed that we might get rained out, but felt that if it were not raining and we had an audience, we’d put on the show.
All around us other vendors were setting up too, the air was warm, the sun was out, a band was organizing their gear on the main stage. We headed back home, I emailed my models to let them know they should still turn up for hair, makeup and final fittings at noon.
We cleaned up the house, I gave the pieces for the show a final once over and press, Kirk went out for snacks and bevvies for the ladies. Once they arrived, an hour and a half flew by, with last-minute changes in shoes, tweaking of fit on a couple of garments, taking pictures. Liz came by with lovely jewelery for everyone and ended up acting as an impromptu stylist and stage manager.
We were in high spirits when we headed over to the staging area for the show; everyone looked amazing (I posted more pictures here). When we arrived however, we found that to a one the other designers had pulled out because of the weather. Still sunny and warm, the wind had just started to pick up; one of the models would periodically pull a piece of plant debris from another’s hair.
After some deliberation and multiple phone calls to the event co-coordinator it was decided that we would go on as a fashion show of one. The crowd was pretty thin at this point and you can see and hear how windy it was, but my models walked with confidence and poise. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance from them. It was over in just a couple of minutes.
We packed up my rack and clothes and beat a hasty retreat back to the house. I grabbed a few bites to eat as the ladies changed, and though outside the sun had finally disappeared and the wind was rising, no one seemed in a hurry to leave. Finally, the power went out, and I decided they needed to get on the road before things got worse, and shooed them out the door.
Kirk, Stella and I sat on the couch and watched as the rain started in sheets, the wind rattling the trees. We eyed the half rotted 50-foot giant in our front yard, under which everyone had parked earlier, wondering how it would hold up.
Exhausted and still not recognizing the serious nature of the storm, I suggested a nap and we all piled into bed and drifted off to sleep. Half awake I heard a muffled thump, but as you do in that state, just idly wondered what it could be. It almost sounded like an orange falling off of a table in the other room.
I’m not sure how much later it was, but our neighbor Dave called to ask if we were okay, having seen that the aforementioned tree had indeed split at the trunk and keeled over into our yard. This must have been my falling orange. By some stroke of luck it had fallen away from power and phone lines, away from the house, landing without hitting anything other than part of the nearest crepe myrtle. It even missed the apple tree we planted in Grover’s honor, along with his ashes, last weekend.
Dave also tells us that a tornado had hit Raleigh, and when I check (via my phone) I learn that is reported to have been south of the downtown area. Later I find out that it was actually a series of funnels that touched down in several places across the city, moving in northeast in a diagonal line. I spend a couple of hours on my phone, checking in with friends via Facebook and text. It seems that everyone has made it through okay, though the roof has blown off one friend’s rental property and almost everyone is without power.
Now that the storm is over, the sky is blue again.
Once we realize that service probably won’t be restored today, I decide to venture out for essentials, some food we won’t have to cook (the stove is electric) and, of course, some beer. It’s only once I’m on the road, that the enormity of what has happened truly hits me as I try to make my way toward the city center, normally just a few minutes drive. I’m part of a slow-moving caravan of other vehicles, blocked at every turn by fallen trees and downed wires.
Finally I turn down a street that is relatively unaffected, and then I reach the first functioning stop light. On the other side of this light it’s like nothing has happened, like walking through the wardrobe into a totally different day. The lights are on, restaurants are open, a pizza joint packed with folks having a normal Saturday evening. I stop at a Chinese place and order take-away.
My phone rings and it’s my grandmother, having heard the news, checking to see if I’m okay. We talk for a while; then ring off. I head home in the growing dark, thinking I’ve found a better route, until I hit another pocket of destruction just a mile or so from home.
Kirk has lit every candle we have and has placed them around the living room in an assortment of containers. We use a flashlight to navigate the rest of the house.
It hits me how tied we are to electrical power, how almost everything we do requires it. One night having Chinese take out and beer by candlelight is playing at camping, the prospect of days without power (no way to cook and cool food, no hot water) more daunting.
I feel an almost obsessive need to check my email and Facebook constantly, to keep a thread of connection open, but soon my battery will die, a we’ll have no way to recharge the phone. As it happens I don’t have to ponder too long because our power comes back on around 10, p.m., a minor miracle based on the downed lines I had seen earlier.
The next morning I walked Stella along our normal route, where again trees and fallen electrical lines blocked the street, but few houses were damaged. I take my head phones off and listen to the chain saws and birds.
I stop and talk to a neighbor, she tells me that she went up to a nearby supermarket after the storm, and saw an injured woman and her infant. The woman tried to make a run for her car and the wind pulled the child out of her arms, thankfully it survived with just a few scratches.
I arrive home to find Kirk and our neighbor (on the other side) John making short work of the monster tree with chainsaw and mini-tractor.
Watching the news later I realize again just how lucky we were. The subdivisions in our neighborhood that lie just east, north and west of us have had severe damage. In total there are 26 counties in North Carolina that were affected by the tornado event which produced a whopping 241 funnels over 6 states and 3 days. I’ve read varying reports, but it looks like the death toll is somewhere between 35-44. In Raleigh 3 children were killed when a tree crushed the mobile home they were in.
My heart goes out to the families that lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods. Thankfully this is not a typical event for my adopted state, but it is still shocking to this California raised girl, used to the most mild of weather. Next time I won’t decide to take a nap, that’s for sure.