Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pi Day Tornado

The following narrative was written in my journal by the light of a candle between 3:36 am and 4:45 am. The pictures were taken on March 15 around noon.

So that thunder...was a tornado. A tornado that pancaked a loft 1/4 mile from where I live. A tornado that hit around 9:30 p.m. It's now 3:36 a.m. and I still don't have power. It looks like Kosovo. And the sirens won't stop.

To back up the story.

I'm sitting at home writing in my journal, trying to write a paper, and I hear thunder int eh distance. And it makes me happy. I forget that March is tornado season. The thunder gets louder, my internet cuts out, the rain starts, my power flickers. I decide to get a snack in case the power goes out completely and I'm in the middle of slicing bread when my power goes out all the way. Good thing my candles were already lit.
I sit down and try to type out more of the paper before my laptop batter dies. Hard to pick out passages in Derrida's Of Grammatology by candle light. Seriously, I'm blessed to have not lived in the 17th century. Or before they had candles. Reading by candlelight is ridiculously hard. I'm writing by it right now and it's not much better. Marginally so. I'm not trying to interpret anything at least.

I call my mom and we chat about how annoying this is. Eventually she realizes that I don't have power AT ALL whereas hers just flickered on and off. We hang up. Oh, during our conversation I asked if a tornado were heading my way. She didn't know. We hang up.
I sit in the dark. I contemplate the fact that I live in a studio apartment with a window in every room. I am fucked if a tornado blows through here. The rain gets worse. The wind gets worse. It dies down. I hear a shit ton of sirens go up and down my street. The weather seems better. I had talked to D. at some point during the storm and asked if he had power. He seemed confused that I should ask and replied that he was in Midtown at L.'s apartment for a Pi Day Party, they had power, I should come. Ok. I try to work some more, but really, trying to read by candlelight sucks.

So I decide to go to Midtown. L.'s place is only 1.5, maybe 2 miles from my house. I contemplate how dangerous it is to ride in my part of town on a bike, at night, when the power is off. No intersection lights, no street lights, etc. At this point i figured it was just a bad storm and the sirens were in response to auto accidents or something. I'm worried that I might become one of those accidents--Atlantan drivers aren't known for their four-way-stop skills at major roads like Ponce de Leon--but I throw my fender on my back wheel, grab my helmet, and leave the apartment.
Now, I live on a fairly populated street. There's an apartment complex across the street from me, restaurants next door, houses all around, street lamps, etc.--all blacked out. DARK. People milled around because it was so weird, but I've never seen this part of town so dark, ever. The only light glowed from the second floor balcony across the street: two men smoking cigarettes in the surreal night.

I rode towards midtown and, I kid you not, one block from my house towards downtown, the power was on. Go figure. The entire skyline of downtown is lit too. Only later would I discover via 3rd or 4th person on the phone that the Georgia Dome lost part of its roof and the CNN building lost eithe rpart of the building or had a bunch of windows smashed in by the wind. At this point though, I knew nothing. Just that, annoyingly, the power was out.
It's raining again as I near Midtown and i eventually reach my friends. Only 30-45 minutes later do we find out that there was a tornado. D., N., and B. live in the Mattress Factory Lofts. D. was in Midtown during the storm. N. and B. were at home. They called D. to say that they were on their way, and, oh yeah, by the way, a tornado just ripped through. Their loft was ok, but the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts got hit hard.

Apparently they heard a terrifying noise, ran into the hall, the tornado passed, some metal and glass broken, but nothing major. And apparently the time between the noise and the actual tornado was 20-30 seconds max. Not enough time to truly flee the area. One or two more people trickled in, each with stories about missing porches, people wandeirng around like zombies, and lofts with entire top floors obliterated. More info came in on the phone all night. No tv was at the apartment, so it was all 2nd, 3rd, 4th hand info. Which, in itself, is terrifying enough. What really happened? Are our friends ok?
We hung out, made some random music--I played the spoons!--cause L.'s upstairs neighbors to get really mad and bang on the floor, and I left around 3. I decided to ride up Boulevard because, as sketch as it is to ride on it with the projects and the junkies and the prostitutes and gangs etc., it doesn't have a hill and the other was one big hill with fewer lights and it's own brand of sketch. Boulevard had power at least, so I rode up towards Highland, pedaling as fast as I could. So far no evidence of the storm. I get to my intersection and I'm about to turn left when I decide that i might as well ride to where the tornado hit, since I'm on on my bike and all.

I get to Edgewood and Boulevard and a police car is blocking the intersection. No one can go past that point towards Dekalb Ave. I ride up to the officer and say that i live at the Mattress Factory Lofts, it wasn't hit, can I go there? They wave me through and right as I get to Lenny's Bar, I see it. The damage. A tree branch here, there. And then. The apartments across the street from Lenny's. Their balconies? Well. A bunch were lying on the street. No power or electricity at this point. There were also enough branches and debris to make riding a bike stupid. But I kept going.
I turned right onto Dekalb Ave and it felt like I turned right into Kosovo. Shadows and outlines of mangled fences, buildings, trees lined the street, sidewalk next to the parked freight trains; lumps against the grey unilt sky. Shredded plywood and maples lay flung across the pavement. My bike bumped along. Every now and then, a homeless man would call out a greeting, but other than that, silence. So I rode. No cars. No lights (other than my comparatively weak blinkies). Debris, twisted fences lining the road, separating it from the tracks. Buildings missing corners, missing signs. Police baracading the MARTA station. Ironically, electricity on at the Mattress Factory Lofts.

I turned left onto Memorial to circle home via Cabbagetown and the Cotton Mill. Was a building really "flattened like a pancake," according to CNN? Still no lights, still silence as I was waved through by a policeman onto Boulevard. Turn right onto Carroll Street (emergency vehicles all over all this point0 and try to ride up the narrow technically two-way but really just one car width street. The businesses' glass all shattered, tree branches in the middle of the road, blinds hanging out of window frames on the outside of buildings. And then, to the left, the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts. One building, two building, no building, four building. Oh. My. God. The building is there, technically, but three or four floors are gone. "Stacked." Kind of funny given the lofts' new name: The Stacks.
For a brief moment, however so tiny, I knew what it was like to be a New yorker and look out the window and see the buildings gone. But there were cars behind me, so I pedaled on. Weirder still was the Krog Tunnel. completely dark to the extent that I with my light on I still couldn't see in front of me more than two feet. And the tunnel is long enough to make that scary. So dark.

Made it home. Power still off. Though it's on one block over. Riding home I felt like I was in a war zone. one block was fine, the next obliterated, the next fine. The darkness, the shadows, made it all the more surreal. And as i approached Dekalb Ave, where it grew apparent for the first time that nature had her way, wreaked some havoc, the mockingbirds snag out clear against the murky night. Beauty in the midst of war.
I was lucky. So lucky. No damage here at my house. I can't help but think of friends at the Cotton Mill, near Carroll St, that may have been hit. I've heard there are no deaths. But no one counts the homeless. The tornado hit downtown, then ran up Dekalb Ave, and out across Boulevard, hit the Cotton mill, then lifted. The Cotton Mill didn't collapse for another hour or so, so hopefully everyone got out. But their lives are gone. Who knows how much art, how many projects, pets, collections, family heirlooms were lost. Who knows, maybe lives.

Fucking Kosovo.
War Zone.
And the birds


VeggieGirl said...

oh my goodness gracious thank goodness you were not hurt - take care, and hang in there!

DaviMack said...

I'm glad that everything's OK for your place! Very well written post, by the way. I'm afraid that it's the urge for a ... well, a literary pun which is telling me that I must comment: Derrida being all about deconstruction, but in another sense, I'm sure. Yes - it had to be done.

Jes said...

I love it! Awesome pun! That seriously made my day...

Jenny said...

I'm glad you're okay but I can't believe you went bike riding!

*sigh* I thought I left tornadoes behind in Indiana....

Liz² said...

those pictures are surreal... thanks for the account, though. It's not something I'll likely ever experience and your telling of it was really interesting. I'm glad you got through unscathed!