Our double-wide had been originally manufactured with total electric, but the previous owners had replaced the electric furnace with a gas one. Unfortunately, a gas furnace is useless without electricity. Fortunately, Hubby had the foresight to purchase a nice gas heater and have a line run from the propane tank when we first bought the home. The heater had sat unused for two years. That was about to change.
Hubby prepared the stove while we still had light. Meanwhile, a phone call from my father, who lived seven miles away in a Senior Housing complex in Elkins, confirmed that the city had lost electricity. Hubby and son braved the elements and went to pick up my father. That was when we began to understand the scope of trouble we were in. From our perch on the hill, we saw a beautiful world of crystallized trees. Below us, all pandemonium had broken loose. For the next three days we would depend on cell phones for all communication. Candles and flashlights were our only light source at night. The average person probably has a good supply of candles and batteries . . . we didn't. So began our ice storm ordeal.
We cooked with a Coleman propane stove placed on top of the electric range, and ate by candle light. Boredom was staved off by camaraderie for the next 48 hours or so. We were warm, safe, and had food. Things could get a lot worse. Sheltered from the reality displayed on television and announced on the radio, we didn't know that it was already much worse for others.
As the freezing rain continued, the winter scene outside our windows worsened. Throughout the evening frozen limbs cracked like gunfire under the weight of so much ice. Sometimes the limbs broke slowly, screaming as they were stretched to their limit. Finally they crashed to the ground. Then came the wind, and the thunderous crashes of entire trees. We sat around the table in the candle light, making small talk. Sometimes the sound was so close that we looked at each other with wide eyes, wondering if it would fall on us. But we were lucky. Nothing fell on the house.
Before dark on Wednesday night, the rain turned to sleet. When we woke Thursday morning, a dusting of snow covered the sleet and ice. The ice storm had moved on, but like a tornado, it left destruction in its path.
I had a few clients in West Fork, 17 miles to the southwest, so I warmed up my car and headed down the drive. I was relieved to find that the highway was not slick. What I did see was both frightening and awe inspiring. Trees hung over the road like stiff bodies, ready to fall. Others had already fallen and the limbs that had blocked the road had been severed with chain saws. While the storm itself had moved on, the area still lay under a dangerous blanket of ice.
As I passed through a gauntlet of threatening trees, I realized I was holding my breath. Occasionally a limb would fall in front of or behind me, crashing to the ground and sending a spray of ice across the road. At one point, the top of a tree fell on the road only minutes after I had been under it.
Lake Sequoyah drive looked as if bombs had gone off, with nearly every tree sustaining major damage. Limbs were broken at the top, trees toppled over – sometimes on roofs. The scene repeated itself throughout the area.
Everywhere, broken limbs hung limply from the tops of trees, as if something had come through and beaten them into submission. The ice and damage stretched for miles through the Boston Mountains. It was beautiful - and tragic.
A tree hung over a child's car - protecting? Or ready to pounce? Another tree split in thirds, as if chopped by a giant ax. Each limb and every blade of grass had been delicately encased in its own icicle.
Helicopters at the airport sat silent, icicles hanging from their blades, looking like something out of a science fiction movie. The hummingbird feeder with its coat of ice was like a card from nature, reminding us that, like the hummingbird, eventually spring would return.
For us, power was back on by mid-morning Friday. But for many it would be weeks before life returned to any semblance of normal. Thousands of dollars worth of food went bad in refrigerators and freezers before power was restored. Compost yards are full and yet piles of limbs still border nearly every city road after weeks of cleanup.
Miles of forest had sustained damage that would take years or decades to repair. In the spring there would be flooding, due to the debris still on the ground. In the summer the dead limbs would be fodder for wildfires.
It isn't likely that anyone will forget this storm for a long time. But next time an ice storm rolls in, we will all be better prepared. I know I have enough candles to last for a long time. Meanwhile, we can all feel proud that we were presented with a disaster and rose to the occasion, struggling back to our feet and assisting others to do the same. Like the damage, what we learned from this ordeal will affect many facets of our lives. Whether it makes our lives better or worse depends on us.