As gusts of up to 97 miles per hour (as recorded around Los Angeles) barged through December’s doors, we were not fully prepared for the equivalent of a stage 1 to stage 2 hurricane-like wind condition. Any wind speed above 75 mph is classified as hurricane winds, so we were well within what many southern states are usually forewarned about and prepared for.
Our homes, businesses, and trees were simply not used to this sort of abuse and few were ready. After all, we’re earthquake country, not hurricane ally!
Like many during the night and morning of November 30 and December 1, respectively, our family (including the dog) huddled together in the dark of a power outage. Emergency vehicle sirens, car alarms, and random wind-whipped objects kept us up, as we wondered when the calamity would stop. I could not sleep until after 3 AM; and that, only because I used earplugs.
The next morning, the electric alarm clock did not go off. But perhaps out of habit, we woke at about the usual time and rushed to get ready for the day, unaware of the destruction outside.
As we exited our home to get the kids to school on time, we surveyed the damage: our beautiful Australian Willow in the back yard didn’t make it through the night (thankfully, it fell away from the house), the front yard maples lost hefty branches, our 2-inch thick swinging wooden car gate cracked in two places, my hand-sewn seat cushion disappeared and more.
On our block, the house next door lost windows, the house across the street lost a significant part of their roof, neighbors were cleaning their property, torn power lines dangled in mid air, and three mature palm trees were decapitated. And this was noticed upon first glance, while walking the dog and talking with neighbors.
Perhaps, still in denial or thinking it was better at school, we proceeded with our usual routine. Then, the extent of the devastation began to sink in. We were weaving through a nature-induced war zone. And our street got off easy compared to the wreckage we witnessed: trees on top of cars, trees blocking streets, leaning fences and debris everywhere.
My boys kept saying, “Look at that! Oh, look at that! Oh my gosh…” I was simply focused on not hitting the car in front of me, going at a snail’s pace because the streetlights were all out. We were late; but it was a good thing, because while we were in the car I got the cell phone call from the SPUSD, school was canceled. We turned the car around and took the 15-minute, 1.5-mile detour home.
As the days rolled by, stories of individual hardships poured in. There was chaos with families as children were dropped off at various South Pasadena schools, then classes were canceled and parents had to fight their way back through traffic to pick-up or find their children.
One story that appalled me was of a friend who (like many were dealing with a mess on their property) was also burglarized while at work that same day, heaping insult upon injury. Though according to Officer Richard Lee of the South Pasadena Police, the number of burglaries since the heavy winds was not unusually high, the rates rising since October.
School was cancelled again for Friday. My friend (still without power) and I decided to take our children out to breakfast. As we visited one of the few open restaurants, we immediately noticed how packed it was with families, kids, people trying to connect to the Internet, etc. And strangers at surrounding tables, like family, shared their wind-induced hardships and close calls.
I never felt so much camaraderie with neighbors. It felt bitter sweet to connect with each other through our challenges, but that’s what it took: often, through hardship we break open.
I’m sad for our loss. We love our trees, excellent schools, beautiful homes, and quaint community. The clean up is extensive and expensive. People are still suffering loss. But if any good has or can come out of this, it’s that we all have an opportunity to better prepare for an even bigger emergency. And at least for now, we can also begin to more deeply recognize our humanity: people reaching out to help each other, sharing our stories, sharing our pain. Let’s not lose this chance to offer our help, big or small, and mean it.