I live and work in Oakwood. The tornadoes Saturday afternoon didn’t damage my house, but at least one came close enough that I spent 45 minutes inside a closet with my cat waiting for it to pass. Significant damage occurred within blocks to the south and east and just across the street from my office. I was lucky. In the first 24 hours after the storm, many of us in the area felt overwhelmed, powerless (both literally and figuratively) and unsure about what to do next.
By Sunday I’d seen more devastation, and I was feeling emotional and a bit helpless. Raleigh is my town, and when my town is in trouble, I am in trouble. A friend posted on Facebook that there was a group doing some work on Camden near Martin Street, so I grabbed my keys and my phone and started walking. Going down East Hargett Street, I found tree after tree in the road. Power lines were down, sheds and houses badly damaged. The City of Oaks had (in a few short minutes) become the City of Fallen Oaks. The sounds of chainsaws, sirens and homeless chirping birds were ubiquitous. People wandered the streets looking lost, holding camera phones, walking slowly, taking in the enormity of the damage.
When I came upon the cleanup scene, there was an army of about a dozen people. Some of them lived in the row of houses where the two trees fell. Some were N.C. State students who had decided to go looking to help. Others were neighbors. I walked up, and a boy of maybe 11 handed me a small log. I could see a pile of debris forming on the road, so I walked my log over and set it down on top. There were three men with chainsaws, but this cleanup wasn’t organized. Still, it worked: As the men with chainsaws hacked off small sections of tree, we hauled more and more to the street. Soon, space started to appear where the tree had once been, and the collection of debris grew taller. Together, we moved an oak tree.
Experiencing that kind of power among strangers had an unexpected effect. A day later, I was itching to find another tree to move. I didn’t have to look far. I jumped in the car as soon as I finished with my last client and headed to the house of some especially hard-hit friends in the Lockwood neighborhood. I had to park many blocks away and walk (and climb) to their house. Their neighborhood does not resemble what you might have seen last week or what is visible on Google Maps; it’s simply not navigable.
Both times I’ve done work after the weekend’s storms, others have thanked me for coming, and I have responded by thanking them, too. We aren’t helping unfortunate people with problems. This is our problem, our city’s problem. I didn’t wait until the weekend to help, and I hope others won’t either. In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing more important than this.