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When the Chips Are Down

By Joe Wessels · September 23rd, 2008 · Wessels

Ike just doesn’t sound like a nice person’s name. No offense if that’s your name. Sorry, too, if your name will forever be linked with the first hurricane to actually make its way to Cincinnati and wreak havoc over the entire region.

I don’t know a person who wasn’t affected by the windstorms that swept through here Sept. 14. If it was n’t tree branches littered all the yard or a tree lying in a road you normally take, you encountered a grocery store nearby without power, a gas tank on empty and not a station open any where.

Or the power was out, the telephone was out and the cable TV (God forbid!) was out, and none of them appear to be coming on any time soon. My heart goes out to the family and friends of those killed in this area as a result of the storm. Fairfield Fire Chief Don Bennett’s daughter and son-in-law were killed in Hueston Woods when a tree fell on their motorcycle. Bennett and I met a few months ago at Colerain Township Fire Station 102, where some of his firefighters were manning the station after Colerain lost two of their firefighters at a house fire. It just goes to show that grief comes in many forms and is never expected.

This storm has made its mark on Cincinnati in ways we’ve never seen before. Previous deadly tornadoes and fires tended to leave a concentrated path of destruction.

Ike’s damage also uncovered our good side, as times when our faith and strength are tested the most. Cincinnatians — everyone from Dry Ridge to Oxford — came out of their homes and helped neighbors clear debris from their yards, directed traffic around fallen power lines or offered to let someone sleep in their home with power.

Right away after the storm — and I assume many will get paid for this, but maybe not — I saw lots of tree service trucks out and about clearing debris off road ways. To me it seemed like a generous offer of neighbor ly goodness that I hope doesn’t go unrewarded. That’s exactly what should happen in times like this. It doesn’t seem that anything good can come when six buildings around Findlay Market catch fire. I watched on Sept. 14 as firefighters struggled to readjust and reconfigure their strategies as one building caught fire after another. It was horrifying to witness.

After leaving I came upon the historic Grammer’s Restaurant at Walnut and Liberty streets. The building was on fire, its attic fully ablaze.

Cincinnati Fire Chief Robert Wright left Findlay Market and headed over to Walnut to call in another multiple alarm fire. Then the fire trucks began blowing their loud horns in three bursts. That signals firefighters inside the building — and there were several — to get out immedi ately because the fire had spread.

The scene was frightening and sad at the same time. Luckily, no firefighters were hurt. The Cincinnati Fire Department made 700 emergency runs on Sept. 14. A typical day yields about 200. One firefighter told me at the Grammer’s scene that the day was like nothing he’d ever seen before.

“The whole county is on fire,” he yelled at me as he ran to help an exhausted colleague. I’ve been intrigued by the traffic-light-out issue through out the area, as numerous four-way intersections typical ly managed by green/yellow/red have become free-for-all zones, depending on the patience of drivers. Many are tempted to breeze right through and not stop, though many more drivers graciously stop over and over again to ensure safety for everyone.

Ike also taught us a lesson this week in new technolo gy and how it can be completely undependable. I’m writ ing this column from a McDonald’s in Price Hill. My Internet stopped working at home, and my office has been without power for three days. CityBeat’s printing, which normally happens up near Dayton, had to be moved to Columbus this week because of power issues.

Then there was the friend who’s pregnant with her fourth child and has only a cell phone and cable tele phone service. She slipped and fell in her Harrison home, where she was by herself, and broke her ankle.

With the power out, she couldn’t call for help and crawled out into her front yard and hoped someone would find her. She passed out in the yard, where a neighbor spotted her and summoned an ambulance.

She’s fine now, but it could have been much worse. Days like these certainly are horrible when they hap pen. But they also remind us how lucky we are to live in a place like Cincinnati, where people truly come together when the chips are down and show how much they care for one another.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: joe@joewessels.net



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