Storm thrashes Salem area
SALEM – Instead of rock music, the air was filled with the ripping of chain saws and a comforting murmur of generators as Salem-area people worked their way back to normality.
“It’s the freakiest storm I’ve ever seen in Salem,” said Michael Bentley, who lives on Broad Street where a tree split in his family’s back yard. Sections or entire 70-year-old oaks and maples were laid west-to-east by the estimated 80-mile-an hour “derecho” storm that hit with little warning at 9 p.m. on June 29.
Just about everybody was affected, if only temporarily. Many people who watched the storm from inside their houses said the winds whipped trees around like a tornado, without the funnel cloud.
On Red Lane in Salem, a row of white pine trees fell on the home of Bob and Carolyn May. “We had seven or eight great-big 60-foot pine trees come down on our house and patio. It punched over 50 holes in our roof, alone, smashed all of our umbrellas on the patio, it was just a mess.”
Still, May is thankful. “The good thing is No. 1, nobody was hurt, and we didn’t lose power in the house so we had a cool house to sleep in that night. All the material things that were damaged can be replaced. We’re blessed that it was nothing worse than it was.”
Lydia Spruhan, who moved to South Salem from South Dakota with her parents, Judy and John, described Salem’s storm as “worse than when tornados came through South Dakota. What it does is change the focus from things to people. When I see the damage, I start thinking about the people and hope they are OK.”
Don and Rita Craft agreed about the power of last week’s windstorm.
“We’ve lived here for 40 years on Ponderosa Drive at Carvins Cove. I’ve never seen such devastation that the wind caused,” he said. Rita was outside and saw the windstorm coming. The couple was able to save all their food from their freezer. “We took most of it to our daughters, Diana Morehart and Cheryl Craft,” their dad said. Concerns in Catawba and more rural areas were not only for the people but the animals. Without electricity, wells don’t pump, and therefore, there’s no water when the tap is turned on.
“I don’t know how I’m going to water the livestock,” said Kathy Orr, who has 32 sheep and 32 goats.
City of Salem street and emergency crews worked throughout Friday night and Saturday to get to the biggest trees blocking streets, and kept on cutting. They expect to be busy for quite a while.
Across Salem, “I’d estimate 100 city trees went down, and that was just City of Salem trees, not in people’s yards,” said Mike Tyler, head of the street department. He pointed out one of the biggest, a 10-foot-around oak in Wiley Court that keeled over and across Locust Street in the Langhorne Place area.
“It pulled up the sidewalk. Since people can use the other street, we’re just going to leave it until our crews can get there. We’ll make a whole bunch of firewood out of it for Project Warm next winter,” Tyler added. That project coordinated by the Church of the Brethren supplies heating wood for people who can’t afford to pay much.
“We were sitting at dinner and didn’t hear the wind but began to hear popping sounds and thumps when the branches hit the ground,” said Mary Ferraté.
A few doors away in their Wiley Court neighborhood, half of a tree crashed into the front of a cottage where no one was living at the time.
From 9 p.m. Friday night until 1 a.m. on Saturday morning, the 911 center in Salem received 261 calls, a little more than a call a minute, Chief Jeff Dudley said.
LewisGale Medical Center in Salem had an influx of patients in its emergency department, a total of 345 over the weekend, and the hospital activated the emergency disaster code to call in additional physicians and staff in response to severe heat and power outages.
“In one 24-hour-period we saw 184 patients starting early Saturday morning, immediately following the storm,” said Joy Sutton, marketing communications manager.
Although the City of Salem has its own electric department and seldom loses power supplied to residents and businesses, “Like every locality on Friday night, we had thousands of businesses and homes go off the grid when ‘Mr. Derecho’ came through,” said Mike Stevens, the city’s spokesperson. “By 10 a.m. on Monday, we had all but 20 residences back on the grid.”
He urged people to be careful of downed wires that still might have power in them and are still not in place. Unlike Roanoke County, Salem does not have special days for brush pickup. Cut limbs and brush from the storm will be picked up on normal trash days, Stevens said.
The rainless storm blasted its way from Ohio to Virginia and ripped apart electric power lines, poles and other infrastructure. Adding insult to injury was the 96-degree heat that wasn’t expected to let up by the end of the July 4 week in Salem.
Three days after the storm, 16,000 were still literally powerless in Glenvar and other portions of Roanoke County, 40 percent of Craig, much of Roanoke City and by Monday afternoon, about two dozen homes in the City of Salem, which runs its own electric system. Appalachian Power estimated power might not be restored until Saturday in many areas.
In the hours after the storm struck and ran, Salem restaurants and motels were filled by people wanting meals, a place to escape the heat and to recharge their phones and electronic devices. A room in the Salem Civic Center opened as a cooling center for part of the day on Saturday, offering air conditioning, water and TV.
Bags of ice to salvage food from refrigerators and freezers were just about non-existent. A hand-lettered sign on the door of Food Lion on Wildwood Road read “No ice.”
Customers stood in line for up to an hour at Spartan Square Kroger on Sunday, waiting for the Ready Ice machine to make, bag, weigh and seal bags of cubes. The machine could make eight bags an hour, a Kroger cashier told those waiting. The box next to it was emptied of dry ice within minutes after that was delivered, she said.
The Salem Fair was scheduled to open on July 3 on schedule. Stevens said with the ice companies in the Roanoke Valley still without power, the Salem Civic Center was planning to supply ice for vendors at the fair.