TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Night Paducah's Sky Fell Down

It all started out as a thing of beauty, the world transformed into a glass palace, a winter's fairy tale. We all knew an ice storm was coming and, to be fair, our winter in Paducah has been on the mild side this year with little snow and bearable temperatures. Now we would get some of our share of snow and ice. Ah, yes.... winter can truly paint some pretty pictures...

I did say we knew this ice storm was coming, right? I thought I should pick up a few groceries, just in case the roads got messy. People's shopping carts were piled high with goods. "Hmmm... I wonder why? Is there a holiday I don't know about?" I guess some people were paying more attention to what could happen, but none of us expected what really took place. After one night of dreamy nostalgia, the trees cried out and our world was transformed, broken into pieces, a snow globe that somebody smashed carelessly...

Our power went out at around noon. No big deal... Surely it will be back soon. Tomorrow will be a week for me, along with about 400,000 other people around the state of Kentucky. For many, it will take three or more weeks before they get that precious electrical juice. What happened?

That night, the temperature dropped. The house was cold, very cold. I had a friend help me move the birds to the kitchen where I have both a gas stove and a gas wall unit, our only source of heat for the next few days.

We set the cages on the washing machine and drier, my fear now that they might die from carbon monoxide poisoning...

Camping gear! What wonderful tools for survival. My Coleman lamp and some candles made the kitchen cozy and I started working on another dog food paper purse. A wonderful audio book, "The Little Book", surprised me by a fascinating plot involving time travel, Vienna and great characters. It took the author 30 years to write it, so he had time to fine tune it to perfection. Such an appropriate story, going back in time to the days where electricity were just starting, a split experience of the world where the present is both modern and ancient history. Kind of like being stuck in a frozen kitchen in Kentucky in 2009...

I finally drew up the courage to face my ice cold bed. Oh, the pain, the pain!!! Sure, my Dad has lots of those stories, "When I was a kid.... bla, bla, bla, I had to walk two miles to school in the snow, .... bla, bla, bla...." I dove in and lay there, the ice princess. Slowly, the bed warmed up. The dogs, confused about the obvious lack of amenities they were also used to, hung around close by. Then, it started.

The sky fell down. All through the night, it crashed. The trees screamed out as each of their limbs was torn off and thrown to the ground. I could only hear it once the branches started falling, but the monster dogs knew what was happening long before I did. Hysterically, they cried, "RA, RAH, RUFF, RUFF, RUFF!!!!!!" as each branch responded with, "KABOOM!!!!" I lay there and wondered if one would come through the roof. What would the world look like tomorrow? What can you do when the sky falls down? Nothing. You just have to wait, quietly and with somber hopes that tomorrow will be OK.

Sheba surveys the street.

Morning came and, miraculously!, the sky had glued itself together and was back up again. But, the trees.............. oh, those beautiful trees! All of their tops were gone! The dogs went out with me and we looked around in the back yard...

Sheba is suspicious.

Mitchie shakes his head.

Laila analyzes the soil.

Juba gives a speech.

This is in the back yard, facing the house. Note the tops of the trees. The whole city looks like that. Lots of fallen branches to explore...

My neighbor's yard:

The ice, so pretty the day before, had continued to layer itself, growing long icycles, weighing the branches down. And, temperatures dropped- I think it was below freezing inside the house. Not fun.

Here are a couple of before and after photos, the first day of ice, and the next day, after the sky fell down.

My house before.

My house after. Most of the branches that look like they are still OK actually have big cracks in them and will need to come off. That tree to the right of the porch needs to go.

The trees across the street looked like this.

Now they look like this.

Same house, back yard.

No yard was spared. All of the forested areas now have trees that are all the same height. Who was that giant that walked through here, clipping all the tree tops with a rough pair of shears?

It's a big mess!

That was just the first day. We didn't figure on no power ANYWHERE, all stores, banks, hospitals, gas stations- everything being closed for three days! No cell phones worked, landlines were down, no computers. Radio stations were silent. This is when our dependency on all that is electronic and oil based becomes so obvious. Next time, I'm going shopping for a solar powered straw bale house. Yep.

We are fine. Ly, my Vietnamese neighbor, spent the worst of it with me. At 76 years, she has little tolerance for the cold. She also doesn't handle stress very well. But, we all pitched in and had a nice dinner for a couple of other neighbors who had electric stoves, she cooked me some great egg rolls the next day, and thankfully, she has her power back on. When she wailed about all the problems we were having, I reminded her (over and over and sometimes impatiently), that we were the lucky ones. We are not on oxygen or dependent on any machines to live, there are no little babies we have to look out for, we have food, resources, everything we really need.

Ly with our only heat source.

A branch fell down on my power line, pulling the meter out of the wall, so I have to wait in line, along with hundreds of others for service. Doc, the Viking-Looking-Southern-Sounding-With-A-Vice-Like-Handshake, fixed the box today. I'm hoping that in three days I'll be reconnected to the grid. Meanwhile, Darrell, my kind and gentle neighbor, has lent me some juice through an extension cord. The fridge and computer are on and maybe I'll watch a movie tonight. If I turn the fridge off for awhile, I can turn on a space heater. There is a line to get close to it...

Sheba and Juba hog up the heat.

Today the ice melted and we begin to assess the real damage. Much of it is still high up. But, things are getting back to normal. Stores have re-opened (you can't buy a candle in this town!), the power company is working around the clock to address a true disaster, phones are working again, and soon this will be one of those stories that we can pass on, like my Dad gave to me, "Oh, I remember the ice storm of 2009 in Paducah, Kentucky...." (said in a trembly little voice). I feel sad for all of the trees, for people who are experiencing true hardship. I feel exhausted thinking of all the clean-up ahead. But, more than anything, I have experienced kindness from my neighbors. That kindness that glues broken skies all back together...

Stay warm and safe, wherever you are!

Update 2/4/09:
Many thanks to all of you who have expressed concern via e-mail or on the comments in this post. I finally got my power back yesterday. The guy who hooked it up was quite the card: "Well, we're connecting you today, but you can't turn your power on for another week." "WHY NOT?" I asked with fear and trembling. "Because you haven't waited long enough!" Ha. Ha. Ha. I think a week was long enough, although I know that for many, it will be another three weeks. No fun, especially since another cold front has moved in.

Considering everything that has happened, reports seem to indicate that there have been few storm related deaths and that infrastructures are getting back into place pretty quickly. But, for many, time without work means no pay, resources running out, and predictions indicate that many more people will have need of emergency shelter and food. Please continue to keep this region in your thoughts and prayers.



  1. Ah Rachel. Beautiful post. So glad you, the dogs and the birds are ok.
    Stay warm.

  2. Amazing! We are SO HAPPY that the branches didn't fall on your head. :)

  3. Wow, Rachel - what a drama! So glad that you and the pups and your neighbors are all okay. I'm guessing all the food in your fridge and freezer was fine all that time without electricity, since it was so cold? Thank God for gas appliances! Wishing everyone in Paducah and Kentucky a speedy recovery from this storm, and sorry about the trees too!

  4. Glad to know you are doing well. You are right. You are one of the lucky ones. Loved your writing.

  5. Rachel, I am so glad you and the animals are all okay. Tough times, but it sounds like you and your neighbors all rally round. They are fortunate to have you.

  6. Oh, so sorry for this nightmare. glad you are OK though. And that all the neighbours helped each others.

  7. How sad these trees look! Here, too many trees are cut in order to sell the wood, I hate the sound of chainsaws -- and in your place, nature did it... I sometimes think we'd have to go back to having a house with a wood fired stove like my brother has. Enough wood for the rest of the winter in your backyard! But the trees will grow again and in two or three years this will not show any more. After all, this was an event with a warning. Very impressive pictures!

  8. Oh, FINALLY some good pictures of the ice storm! My sister Judy Theis gave me your link. You should be taking pictures for CNN and the AP because they didn't have ANY that showed what it was really like. Glad you made it through ok.


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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