Friday, August 26, 2011

Report from Goderich!

This is a more personal piece than most, of special interest to those who have participated in the Earth, Air Celtic Festival in Goderich over the years. This is a personal report on my couple of days on the ground, helping out.

I am the only visual artist who has been at the Festival for every one of its current 19 years of operation. I have also taught at the associated Celtic College every year it has been running as well. Over the years I have gathered a lot of friends in Goderich.

I was at Summerfolk in Owen Sound, actually talking to Goderich architect John Rutledge when the first rumours of a tornado in downtown there started circulating. This was about 5 pm - so less than an hour after the storm strike. Bill's first concern was for his partner Bill, still in Goderich and normally working at the Bedford - which is on the central square. 'How can I check on him - I don't have a phone!' I quickly lent him mine. While John was trying to get through he said 'I don't have any contents insurance on my office downtown'. The line to home and Bill just kept ringing. 'No answer, the machine should have come on, I guess that means the power is out there'. Just about that point, someone came by with an iPhone, downloading fresh images off the internet. One showed John's office building (on the south side of West Street, a half block from the Square). All the windows were smashed on his second floor location. The upper third floor was basically - gone.

The next day, I made some fast phone calls to friends in town. Right off the start I found out that although there was huge damage around the central part of town, no one we know had been injured. I decided to head over to Goderich and lend what assistance I could with the clean up effort. I contacted Greg and Nina Reynolds, who offered to put me up for a couple of days. So Monday morning I offloaded my booth from Summerfolk, and loaded up the truck with cutting torches, a small arc welder and generator, various hand power tools, and a collection of various yard work tools. I got over to Goderich about 6 pm Monday.

The police had set up what turned out to be three rings of security. Absolutely no one was getting into the central Square area. Only residents were being allowed into the damaged area. The outer ring was at the various highway entrances into town, were they were discouraging anyone either not from Goderich, or having a good reason, from even entering town. Because I had a specific destination (plus I think working clothes and a truck full of tools) I was passed into Goderich.

Greg and Nina Reynolds
Image: Looking north down toward Greg & Nina's.
Use the 2 foot tall traffic cone to scale the brush pile!

There was no damage at all to their place, along the cliff edge to the south side of town. I had checked with them second on my list, mainly because (as many reading will know) Greg had a construction accident about a month and a half back and broke both his ankles. Meaning he is in a chair and can't walk. Knowing Greg, he would be out trying to use his electric wheel chair like a log skidder. (And yes - he DID TOO try this - but could not get enough traction!) The trees running along the south edge of their small lot did drop a lot of branches, but these all fell into a dead space between them and their neighbour. The resulting pile of brush was the better part of 40 feet long, 10 feet wide and some 5 feet tall by the time we got it all cleared off.

Next I double checked (by heading over) to Bill and Beth Wark. 'Oh, we are just fine' said Beth on the phone. 'One small branch down is all. Maybe 10 inch diameter, leaning against the edge of the roof.'
Good news - no damage. "10 inches"?? More like two feet thick! Helping son Ian and son in law James, we three managed to get the trunk down on to the ground. My toy chain saw finally gave up the ghost, so we ended up hacking it in two with axes.

By this point it was mid day Tuesday, I checked back and went over into one of the hardest hit areas. This being the oldest section of Goderich, between the Festival's Harbour Park and the downtown Square. Most of the small houses in this area are wood frame, dating back to the early to mid 1800's.
Except for the lack of holes in the ground, the area looked like it had been subjected to an artillery strike. Virtually all the trees were down, and many houses either destroyed outright, or obviously so badly damaged they were hardly safe to even enter.

Conn & Cindy
Image: Looking roughly NE. Conn & Cindy's place is the house to the right.
The next door neighbour was actually sitting on the toilet you see in the middle room of the second floor at the time. The cast iron bathtub is what saved him from being crushed by the falling wall you can see.

Conn and Cindy were not home at the time. Their house had all the windows broken, some shingles off the roof, and some damage to the front porch you can see in the image. The initial engineer's inspection suggests the house may have twisted slightly, the top portion an inch or so off alignment to the foundation. Conn suspects this may not prove significant. A good number of the old asbestos sheet tiles that cover the house are broken from flying debris. There was a lot of wind borne mess and broken glass to clean inside, but Cindy said other than the mess, they did not loose anything. The yard was battered, with some damage to the shed, the fences all down and the pear tree destroyed. Considering the complete destruction to the house next door (and up wind) they feel they got off extremely lucky.

I did spend a good amount of time helping out with their friends and near neighbours John and Beth (who I don't know personally). The walls of their frame house bowed outwards in the middle with the pressure. The house will have to be demolished. The engineers would only let two people at a time inside the structure, so the rest of us carried and loaded trailers with their possessions. Again, they did manage to retrieve most of their 'photographs and memories' without too much loss. John was trying to be philosophical about it 'At least we will get a new house out it all...'

Other people we all know in the area (that I ran in to):

George Hoy ('Our Man in Goderich')
'A few branches down, outside of town there was virtually nothing'

Tammy Crocker
Vehicle badly damaged. Broken windows, but generally they think the house is ok.
They live in the core exclusion zone, so are effectively homeless, with only extremely limited access to their home and stuff. However they do have family in town to shelter them. Their problem is not their house, but the church next door. One major brick wall, mere feet away from their house, is threatening to collapse. Concern is that collapse will critically damage their place.
Warren and Elanor Robertson
Their specific street was well outside the serious effect area. I did drive past at one point, there was hardly even much tree damage. (And its all of four blocks from the Square.) Although I did not see them myself, word was that they were ok.

Now, at one point I did go over to the Harbour Park.

the Park House

Image: from the porch at the side of the Park House - looking south.
You can see 'Chez Hoy' across the street, and the mysterious sign exposed on the wall.

I did speak to Herb and his wife. Virtually no damage, one window broken, one other cracked. Loss of power meant loss of all their food stocks. Like all the central part of town, there was still no gas, no electricity.
One of the weird things was the wind tore a section of the old stucco surface away, in a neat rectangular patch. This revealed the word ' Restaurant' painted on the wall underneath!

Harbour Park

(click to greatly enlarge)
Image : Pannoramma, looking from SE rotating to SW while standing in the Park House lot.

Good News - there is no damage to the Band Shell, Picknick Shelter & Washrooms
Bad News - virtually ALL the trees are destroyed

Image: Looking roughly East, standing were the Port-a-Johns get set, across my normal demonstration area. 'My' tree is one of the few undamaged.

Image: Looking over to the area were most of An Droichead set their booths.
One of the large trees Laura and Catherine shelter under remains (almost the only large tree still standing). Jim Wallace's rose arbour is smashed under the large trunk extending over to the right.

Some general observations:

A curse on to:

- Rubberneckers, who 'just had to see' - but never got out of their air conditioned SUV's to help.
You could always spot someone who came to lend assitance, they drove with their windows down so they could ask who needed work done. (A special curse to the woman who started honking her horn at the truck trying to back into a drive with a trailer to load fallen branches.)

- Vacation People, who felt that they had some right to their favorite fast food items. McDonalds was one of the few who even attempted to remain open. They had no gas for grills (no one did!) so they were offering things they could microwave (mostly breakfast items). I saw someone bitch and argue because they could not get the exact thing they wanted. I was amazed the staff even showed for work, the state of town considered.

A blessing on to:

- The OPP, who I found polite, respectful, helpful, reasonable. In fact everything you'd want the police to be in a crisis situation.
- Local Teens, who just seemed to emerge from no where, any time there was something that looked like it needed doing. "Just figured I needed to help" was heard from many of them when I asked.
- Area Residents, who did not wait for the Civil Authorities, but just pitched in to help. Guys with pick up trucks and small trailers, who just kept stopping and hauling away brush piles. Everyone in the region with any tree cutting equipment seemed to have just shown up and got to work - leaving paid contracts to come work for free.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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