Thursday, May 12, 2022 was going to be a hot day. It was forecasted at 91°F. My AC and fan were running, I was just finishing up on painting when I received this first emergency alert text message.
I’m used to thunderstorms now that I’ve lived in South Dakota for almost a year now. I headed into the bathroom…
The power went out, and shortly thereafter, I received this next text message.
And then the tornado sirens went off. I experienced these sirens for the first time a few weeks prior. I rushed into my bedroom. It was light out just before I headed into the bathroom, and now in my bedroom, it was extremely dark. While rushing into my living room, I glanced out of the living room window. It looked like it was night outside. The rain was pouring and the wind, howling. I heard a crack – something had fallen, but I had no idea what.
I was grabbing my dogs’ harnesses and leashes, trying to put them on my dogs, calling for my cat. I finally threw the harnesses and leashes in the stroller, put my dogs in and headed out the door to go down the four flights of stairs to the basement. It was extremely dark in the hallways and stairwells. I could barely muster the stairs. I had one hand on the railing, and one hand on the stroller, walking down each step backwards.
In The Basement
I met two of my neighbors in the basement. We were huddled on the cool floor, listening to the thunder outside. We were there for about an hour. The storm only lasted from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM. No more thunder, we walked back up one flight of stairs to the outside. It was now light again. The storm had passed. There was still no power, and there was a high shrill beeping coming from the first floor. Beep beep beep…
We saw our apartment building’s sign had fallen. A couple of trees diagonal from us had fallen, just missing the people’s house. Around the corner, and across the street, the church’s steeple had lost some tiles, the roof had lost some shingles. The priest’s house had also lost some shingles and lots of trees, uprooted from the soil.
Around the corner, the loud crack I had heard from my apartment was a tree that had fallen.
My neighbor and her son drove around the neighborhood. I decided to do the same, after going to the local pit stop as they had a generator. My dogs desperately needed water, and I for one, didn’t feel ready to climb the three flights of stairs back to my apartment.
Friday the 13th
I took my bipolar meds and tried to get some sleep, but without electricity, my CPAP will not work. I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. My saturated blood oxygen levels drop below 70%, and then I awake up. In my sleep study, I woke up about 27 times an hour.
I did manage to get a little bit of sleep, maybe a couple hours, but the bags under my eyes were definitely noticeable. The power, I was told would not be restored until midnight Saturday. Power lines and cell phone towers were knocked down, semis were tipped over, the water tower in one of the neighboring towns was bent. Roofs were torn off, signs ripped out of the ground, lots of trees uprooted, and at least one fatality. 😭
Went to a motel 6 as I desperately needed sleep and also needed to charge my cell phone. I had called the motel when I was down to 4% on my cell phone. I got the directions from Google maps (that took what seemed like forever to download) and wrote them on a piece of paper. I grabbed my backpack full of stuff and my dogs and headed towards my truck, down the three flights of stairs, dragging Roscoe behind me. Roscoe, my Italian Greyhound-Chihuahua mix doesn’t like stairs. He actually hates them! My Pomeranian, Halo, who’s a lot smaller and has way shorter legs than Roscoe, has no problem with the stairs.
I drove an hour down highway 38 to i90 to get to motel 6. I finally saw it off to the right and drove to a gas station for some much needed food. It was about 36 hours since the storm first came, and about as much time as when I ate a PB&J sandwich. I was hungry. I ended up buying some tortilla chips and salsa, along with some gatorade.
I checked into the motel, walked the dogs, and then into our room. I dumped the contents of my backpack onto the bed. I was so looking forward to plugging in my cell phone and battery packs except there was just one problem. Apparently, I didn’t pack the wall charger, or my meds for that matter. I went back out to my truck and searched it. Nope. No wall charger, no meds. Another long night.
I watched the news for a bit before going to sleep. There were two fatalities. One was a school teacher who was in her car when a tree fell on it, trapping her inside. The other death was a storm chaser.
Saturday, May 14th
As I had no way setting an alarm, I woke up often. I finally got out of bed at about 6:30AM. I was still tired, extremely hungry and bummed that I couldn’t plug in my phone. I drove the dogs and me back home, praying the power had been restored. Back up the three flights of stairs, into my apartment lit only by the sunlight streaming in via the living room window.
All of the food in my refrigerator and freezer was now “gone.” I had spent my last dime on food. A couple of my friends had venmo’d me money, hence how I was able to get a motel room.
A gallon of milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, 5 breasts of chicken, 3 pounds of turkey, 3 large bags of shredded cheese, and now all of my frozen vegetables and fruit completely gone. 😭 All of the beans that I had spent hours soaking and cooking to freeze, gone.
No Hot Water
I was in desperate need of a shower. This is when I found out that my entire apartment is solely electric. The oven/stove are electric, the heat is electric, and of course, there was no hot water. Oh my God! I think that’s when I lost it. That’s when I started bawling. I was exhausted, both physically and mentally. It was now Saturday afternoon, and I was told the power may not come on for 3-4 days! 😮
Neighbor on the Second Floor
When I had returned home from the motel, I met one of my neighbors on the floor below me. He was pushing his walker from the non-powered elevator into the hallway. He had been trapped in his apartment since the storm! He couldn’t go down to the basement without the use of the elevator. He couldn’t make it down the stairs. He said the only thing he had to eat was a lemon cake, and he was diabetic. He asked me if I shad talked to the property manager, or if I could call her. I told him my phone was dead. Then another neighbor was walking by us. She and her husband had a generator outside with extension cords running up the building. I asked her if she would call for our neighbor. She said she didn’t have a phone, which I know for a fact is a lie. But I told her I had a phone, but no battery left. She said there was nothing she could do. Wow!
I went back to my apartment, grabbed 2 of my 4 apples, some tuna, and the last of my canned soups, and an extra can opener. I went back down to my neighbor’s apartment and offered him the food. He declined the food. Turns out he has more food than me! His refrigerator was still cold with all of the food he had! And he said he didn’t want to eat cold soup.
There was a knock on my door. Apparently the electric company had donated “hot” meals. The sheriff’s office was handing them out. I accepted it and thanked them. When I brought the meal inside, it was cold. There was a hamburger bun slopped with something that resembled beef, which I will not eat, and some pasta. There was a bag of chips and a cookie. I ate those and drank from the cold water they provided. So much for a hot meal!
I took an extra dose of my meds to hopefully be tired enough to sleep. I figured if the power didn’t come on by Sunday at 2:00PM, I’d head back out to get another night at the motel, this time making sure I packed everything I needed.
I was just about to hit the hay when the power came back on. Woohoo! I immediately plugged in my phone, called and left a voicemail for my Dad, and then my brother. My brother called me back. We spoke for awhile and then I headed off to bed. Sleep at last. 💤
Straight-line winds are thunderstorms that have no rotation, i.e. not a tornado. Downbursts are a common cause of wind damage from a thunderstorm. They can reach over 100 mph and are caused by air being dragged down by precipitation. The winds that hit my small town of Salem were in excess of 85mph.
After losing one home to a fire without renter’s insurance, I did get insurance for this apartment. Food and motel are covered. I didn’t know this beforehand. If I did, I would have definitely booked a couple of nights at the motel. But at least I can get my money back for the almost $250 spent on the food and hopefully the $66.90 I spent on the motel room.
The End of this nightmarish saga