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guest entry: touched by the falling finger of god

2003-07-06 - 9:37 p.m.

Peachfront's Note: Roger is hosting his pictures telling the story of the disaster from his point of view here on my diaryland account and, in turn, I have asked him to share his story as a guest entry in my own diary. Warning: Lots of pictures, so have patience if you have a slower system, because it may take awhile to load. For those with slow systems, or for those who prefer not to wait for the graphics to load, please visit Roger's diary entry about the disaster at kuro5hin.org.

All photographs 2003 Roger Williams, all rights reserved

The Tree on My House

by Roger Williams

This story features pictures of the
tree on house
tree that fell on my house and the ongoing disaster that resulted.

On June 30, as the flood caused by Tropical Storm Bill began to recede the center of the storm passed over Mandeville and substituted the worst of its wind for the rain. A few minutes later, I heard an ominous snap and several seconds later the lights went out and there was a great thundering splintery explosion as branches punctured the roof. I was standing by the rear door when it happened and one of those branches caught me in the small of the back, shoving me across the room.

As soon as the branch tagged me I knew exactly what had happened; we would often sit in our hot tub looking up at that tree and agreeing that yep, if it ever came down there was only one place for it to go. So in those few seconds after the branch tagged me, before I had time to be afraid, I thought very clearly and lucidly OK, the next thing that is going to happen is the house will come down around me, and I'm going to die.

Here is the last picture ever taken that shows the tree in a vertical position, at the far left with the red woodpecker house mounted on it. Other than the aviary everything in this picture was shortly destroyed -- the tree fell, the fence was smashed, most of the garden destroyed, the hot tub crushed, as was the spot where I stood to take the picture itself.

I didn't die and my house wasn't totally destroyed thanks to several totally unexpected miracles. Several large branches driven deeply into the ground before the main canopy hit my house partially supported one side of the tree, while the other side was deflected by a small pine tree. I had been trying to get rid of that pine tree for a year; it had refused to die even after I girdled it. In turn, it may have saved my life by still being there when the oak fell.

We had to hire a
great big crane
great big crane to hoist it over our house in pieces. The tree was
a section of the old oak tree
sectioned and then lifted out of our yard over our house.

a huge trunk section is lifted

Since we needed the crane anyway we also used it to remove the dead hot tub. The branches made a great big messy pile in front of our house which was loaded onto a tractor-trailer with another special crane, chewing up most of the vegetation that hadn't been flattened by the tree in the process.

The tree guys offered to put up a tarp to keep further rain out of the house, but it was obvious the plastic sheet wouldn't hold up for long. Fortunately after almost four days the insurance adjuster finally made it by, and he didn't like the tarp any more than I did. He had the card of a general contractor whose work he'd observed at his last job, and I was able to get in touch with him and within hours he had a crew up putting down chipboard to close up the gaps and support a
second attempt at tarping the roof
proper tarp which might actually last for awhile.

We were without power for three days during which we stayed at the Hampton Inn in Covington, which was a ripoff and a half -- $120 a night and not even a micro-fridge in the room. OTOH it was the last hotel room available in West St. Tammany Parish after the emergency services and insurers rushed in to find space. CLECO restored power, we verified that all the important stuff (AIR CONDITIONER, also miraculously unsquished) was working, and moved back in on Thursday.

Our phones weren't restored until just now (Sunday evening), though, and we've been using cell phones all week. Yesterday I got tired of not having broadband Internet and I went back in the yard and found the downed cable. Hey, the voltmeter said it had signal! So I arranged my own little repair to tide me over.

And now with the roof secured we wait. Maybe by the 8th or 9th the contractor and adjustor will get together and agree on what's covered for how much, and the rebuilding will start. We've been assured that they will cover the fence, hot tub, new roof, new screen porch, and they will even line the screen porch with hardware cloth to make it bird-proof like my old one. I'll get new sheetrock, floors, and paint job in the two rooms which were damaged. And many of my side expenses, like the ripoff hotel room, will be paid for.

What won't be covered is GF's beautiful labor of love garden, which is already smashed flat from the herb plots to the butterfly garden and which was damaged more by the tree removal than by the tree falling. But I remember the branch tagging me in the small of the back and those few seconds after, and I am glad that is all we lost.

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