Storm warning

Pam
Pam Frampton
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Jack’s Pond Park near Arnold’s Cove took a heavy hit from hurricane Igor. On Thursday, people were trying to clear away debris from many fallen trees. Several trailers like this one were damaged by wind and water, but there were no injuries.

“Real discoveries come from chaos.”

— Chuck Palahniuk, American novelist and journalist

At one point during the apex of hurricane Igor, I thought about Danny Williams.

I wondered if he would have grinned, even for just a second, at the spectacle of the flags flapping in front of the CBC station on Prince Philip Drive.

The CBC flag hung limply by one corner, raring up like a marionette with every gust of wind. The Union Jack was rent almost completely down the middle. The Maple Leaf was also ripped and close to losing its outside red panel.

Only the flag of Newfoundland was perfectly intact, flapping defiantly in the harrowing winds.

But other than the flag show, defiance was pretty hard to come by on Tuesday.

As news trickled in from different parts of the province being ravaged by hurricane Igor, I’d say shock and disbelief were in greater supply.

Your eyes can take in images of paved roads collapsing and breaking in two, brown water lapping at second-storey windows and huge trees leaning against the sides of houses, but it’s hard for your brain to make sense of it all.

And that’s because there is no sense, just chaos.

Feeling insignificant

Driving home from work, buffeted by Igor’s mighty winds, it felt as if the car could be picked up and hurled like a Dinky Toy.

At every intersection where the traffic lights dangled from slim wires, bouncing crazily and threatening to fall, I braced myself for the smash of windshield glass and the possibility of pain.

There were places where I cursed the car and wished for a Land Rover — or, better yet, a tank — on side streets where bulky branches littered the ground as if a giant had strode through neighbourhoods, toppling trees with every step.

At home, our young trees thrashed in the wind, downed branches whirled violently through the air, and there was a fresh scar next door where a mature tree had snapped off and had to be cut down. The house was splattered with wet leaves and dirt, and the dog refused anything beyond a short jaunt to the backyard.

In this province, we’re used to being at the mercy of the weather, but rarely has the weather been so merciless. Heavy rain turned roads to rivers. Hurricane winds ripped clapboard from buildings like strips of cardboard, plucked trees up by their roots like carrots pulled from the soil, and threw garbage cans and signs around like scattered dice.

It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to being involved in a battle, except the enemy was the weather and it had far more in its arsenal than we did.

There was a violence to it that made you want to hunker down and wait it out, which is pretty much all most of us could do.

The morning after

The next day dawned with sunshine and — finally — a calming of the wind, but the storm’s aftermath was surreal and post-apocalyptic. Tree corpses littered the park, their trembling leaves already turning dry and brittle.

The air was filled with the drone of chainsaws. Fences sported irregular gaps like missing teeth. Some of the traffic lights that had been dangling were gone altogether, blown God knows where. Light poles were snapped like toothpicks, their heavy lamps hanging down. Intersections were turned into four-way stops, with bumper-to-bumper traffic lurching forward awkwardly, one car at a time.

Ahead of me, a young woman’s car was straddling two lanes, missing opportunities to inch forward as she ignored the movement of the vehicle in front of her. She was looking down and I thought she was busy texting at first, until I realized she was actually applying makeup.

When she unbound her hair and began vigorously brushing it and pinning it up again, oblivious to the traffic around her, I almost got out of my car to rap angrily on her window.

Can’t you pay attention? You’re holding things up!

And then I laughed at my own foolish impatience.

I thought of the poor man swept away in the storm on Random Island. Of people in communities cut off by washed-out roads. Of places where someone might need medical attention and have no access to it. Of real damage to properties — roofs ripped off, vehicles smashed and broken, houses flooded, sheds carried off by the current.

I thought of how our kids were safe, we were fine, the dog was home curled up on the couch.

I thought of how lucky we were that the last lily in the backyard had survived the storm and would soon burst into bloom.

Of how being without phone and electricity meant enjoying the uncharacteristic quiet, giving us even more excuse to have romantic candlelight dinners, and seeing the brightness of the stars, undiminished by light pollution.

How, sometimes, it’s in the midst of swirling confusion that we can see things most clearly.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by e-mail

at pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: CBC, Union Jack, Land Rover

Geographic location: Maple Leaf, Newfoundland, Random Island

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