BY NIKKI MEYER
I took a trip to Granada recently. It was windy outside, and as I sat in my vehicle with the window down, the occasional sound of creaking, clanging metal could be heard—pieces of a destroyed garage wall banging against itself. The sound of life changed in a matter of moments.
I actually didn’t go to Granada for the purpose of inspecting the damage, but heading south into town on 260th Avenue revealed broken branches and naked stumps where trees once stood, and I was quickly reminded that the town had been hit by weather. Much of the mess had already been cleaned up, yet houses and outbuildings still showed signs of the high winds that swept through town. Nearly two weeks after the event, the damage, however, seemed almost minimal considering a twister had touched down. That was, until I turned onto Meagher Street.
On the south side of East Meagher Street, part of the fence surrounding the elementary playground lay in a twisted pile, orange caution tape strung around it. On the north side, a somewhat mangled boat and trailer sat in the yard of a house whose garage was missing pieces of fascia and had a crumpled downspout dangling off the visible west side. Photos online revealed the boat and trailer had been upended into the yard, against the house. Behind the house, in the football field, were damaged bleachers and a scoreboard that no longer sat on its posts. Even that damage, however, seemed minor compared to the neighbor to the east.
313 E. Meagher Street is missing. Nothing remains but a cement foundation, small front porch, and a railing where presumably steps went into the house from the garage. That, and an American flag that now stands watch over the remnants of the porch are all that indicate where the home once stood.
“That house is gone,” said John Balcom, who owns a rental house further east, on Sparks Drive. “Nobody knows where. I found a piece of it in my yard. They found the roof over at the fertilizer plant.” An entire home. Obliterated. “Thankfully she wasn’t home when it happened.”
A mailbox bearing the names Gary and Mary Shumski sits a few houses further east. Google Maps shows large, green trees surrounding the house and its neighbor. A few large bare trunks are all that remain of them. The family clearly has a sense of humor however, having taken the liberty of painting a large face and “Go Vikings” on the house’s boarded up windows.
“We’re trying to keep positive through this process,” owner Mary Shumski said with a laugh. “We are lucky. Very lucky. Timing was on our side.”
Shumski recounted the day the twister hit. “I was on the phone with a girlfriend and I was coming into Granada and I looked to the west and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to get some rain. Let’s hang up—I want to beat the rain home.’” Shumski said she barreled through town to get to her garage. She didn’t make it.
“When I got to my driveway the tornado hit.” Shumski’s driveway isn’t short. “I went and went and parked in front of my little garage, and then the back window of my vehicle blew out.” She stated she knew immediately it was a tornado. “When the window blew out, I felt relief. There must have been a lot of pressure on the vehicle and I didn’t realize it.”
Despite the explosion of glass, Shumski was able to safely get out of her vehicle and lie down. “It made my realize how fast your mind thinks,” she said of the few moments she spent on the ground. “My mind said ‘Cottonwood tree’ and my body said ‘Run.’” The family took down 13 mature trees in the wake of the funnel, one of which surely would have crushed her if she hadn’t moved.
Shumski survived the storm unharmed, though her house did not. “I used to try to explain what windows blew out and now I just say we have two left.” Still, she feels nothing but fortunate. “Had I been five second slower I would have been in front of the home that disappeared.”
Gary and Mary are now staying in a hotel while they wade through the insurance process. “When we left our residence to go to a hotel, the only thing I was concerned about was our pictures and our children’s memorabilia. Everything else can be replaced.”
On the West side of Meagher, another resident, Lori Pohlman, also faced a harrowing experience. The top of her house was ripped off, almost as though a jagged saw blade ran right across the roof line. Only the chimney and a small portion over an enclosed porch remain. Outside, a fence gate stands open in the yard, no longer attached to anything but the pole holding it up. The corn in the field behind it lies bent to the ground.
“She was home when it happened,” said Shumski. “I ran into her that night.” Amazingly, Pohlman sustained no serious injuries.
Other residents in town have taken the same view as the Shumski’s, trying to find the positives—or at least some humor—in the gloomy situation. One has a sign reading, “Made U Look,” with a face on it, and another states “Don’t Blame Trump,” perhaps a nod to those throwing shade on the president for Hurricane Florence.
The damage is extensive and the insurance process long; families will be displaced for a while. Balcom stated his renter had to move; he had worked to get her aid from the Red Cross, but the house will take some time to repair. Dan and Sheila Denton and their family are in the same situation. “We are lucky to be renting Dan’s mom’s house in Fairmont,” said Sheila. She expects it will be six to eight months before they are able to move back home.
Sheila’s husband sustained probably the worst injuries in town when their front window exploded into the house. “He ended up with about a two inch hematoma on his arm,” said Sheila, “and then he had several lacerations on his chest and on his stomach.” Dan received seven stitches as a result of the incident. He was facing the front of the home, warning his wife about a tree coming down on the house, headed straight for where she was standing in the entryway. The Dentons also lost part of the roof on the back of their home.
“You know, you walk outside and have that initial shock of, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s like a war zone out here,’” said Denton. “But then you find that all the people are accounted for and all the animals are accounted for and everyone is ok.”
It is in times of crisis that the value of living in a small town truly shines. Shumski said that after the storm, “[The community] rallied. They really rallied. It’s amazing how people are just so willing to help.” Shumski, herself a retired EMT, went out and walked her neighborhood as soon as the storm had passed, making sure no neighbors were in need of immediate assistance. Her husband made it home shortly after the storm, and friends weren’t far behind. “Many people showed up with rakes and chainsaws. Food. Water. Ice. Things just appeared. It was just so humbling.”
Denton, an emergency medical responder (EMR), also began going door to door as soon as her daughter—Truman City Administrator Bethanie Ekstrom— and son-in-law arrived and were able to take Dan to the ER. “And then Josh Kitzerow, from Truman, called me and said, ‘What do you need?’” Truman Fire and EMS was dispatched to help scout the town, with the extent of the damage and injuries unknown.
“The outpour was awesome,” said Denton. “We all live in small communities and you know people by their faces, but to call them by names and stuff—some of them you can’t.” Being on a first name basis wasn’t a requirement to give or receive help. “Nobody had to call anybody and say, ‘Hey can you come help?’ We had so much help. So many hands. Trees. Yards. The food. This is why we live where we live.”
Granada mayor Darren Maday—who lost several grain bins next to the train tracks in the middle of town—echoed Shumski’s and Denton’s sentiments. “Nobody has come forward saying they need any extra assistance. I think for the most part everybody is doing alright.” The town—bolstered by the assistance of many other local communities, and the Red Cross—is hanging together. “We’re pretty lucky.”
Even after the clean up phase has passed and life has gone back to the new normal, residents are still looking out for one another. Jill Mathiason posted on Facebook recently: Jeff was out combining in a field 3.5 miles northeast of Granada yesterday. He came across enough siding, shingles, and insulation to build a small outhouse! All from homes damaged in Thursday’s tornado. To all our friends and neighbors who sustained damage: I’m so sorry! He also found this cute little banner. If it’s yours, or you know who it belonged to in Granada, we’d love to give it back to you! (The banner reads: Welcome. May you Live well, Laugh often, Love much.)
The town may never be quite the same, but the community remains the same: strong and united.
“We’re alive. We’re here to tell about it,” Denton stated. Shumski agreed. “Life is for the living and we are alive.”
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