Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The power of wind and the power of people

by Musician 1st Class Jennifer Stothoff

Photograph by Deanna Storm
The power of wind – it can blow like a soft breeze, a biting gust, or a destructive force, capable of ripping walls apart, as easily as a person would rip paper; or tearing off rooftops like a child removing the lid of a shoebox. I have seen the devastating power of natural disasters on television. I have even endured a few large scale earthquakes, but none of those things prepared me for what I saw yesterday.

We received word of the tornadoes that touched down in the southwest corner of North Platte, Neb., before we departed the hotel in Lincoln, Neb., on Monday morning. Our tour manager, Musician 1st Class Bill Edwards, had to call the hotel and sponsor to make sure that our hotel and concert site were still standing. As it turned out, the wrath of the EF3 (wind speeds up to 165 mph) tornado carved its narrow path through only four homes, and the neighboring train yard (overturning some 15 train cars), but leaving the rest of the area unaffected. However, it was life changing for the families whose homes were torn apart.

Upon returning to our hotel on Monday evening, several of the Sea Chanters met two of the tornado victims who were using the same hotel as temporary shelter. Leon and Carla Freeman lost their home, and nearly lost their lives. They were watching the local news from their living room when they heard about the tornado. Two and a half minutes later, it touched down over their house. In a matter of seconds, their power went out and their living room roof was ripped off. Leon dove into the hallway, tackling his wife to the ground in the nick of time. They were so thankful for their lives, but understandably shaken by the ordeal.

Now, the senior leadership from the Sea Chanters had all pitched in to provide munchies for our annual Sea Chanter tour party that evening, and there was extra money left over. Senior Chief Musician Georgina Todd suggested we donate it, along with any other money people felt inclined to add, to the Freemans. Chief Musician Daryl Duff presented our modest monetary gift the couple on Tuesday morning, and they were very touched. The group wasn't scheduled to depart the hotel for our concert in Chadron, Neb., until 1 p.m., leaving us available to help out that morning. So at 9 a.m., Terry Brokaw, the youth pastor from the Freeman's church, drove four of us over to their home.

What I saw took my breath away. What was once the kitchen, living room and dining area, was now a flat, open floor, with no walls or ceiling. Glass, wood splinters, and insulation littered the carpeted floor and surrounding lawn. Huge trees were uprooted. Vehicles had been turned on their sides or thrown the length of a football field, from the side of the road to the backyard area. Upon first glance, it would seem that Mother Nature had unleashed her fury on these folks and their neighbors and won. But the most astounding thing was the power of people, in a real example of man vs. nature. In the aftermath of the storm, neighbors, family, and church friends had rallied, rolled up their sleeves and begun the long and laborious work of sorting through the debris between the two most affected homes. Since there was no electrical power, a Red Cross truck was there, providing meals, snacks and beverages to help sustain the workers.

Duff, and Musicians 1st Class Kevin Taylor and Antje Farmer and I joined the throng of 20-30 people, already diligently at work. The gentlemen began to help with the heavy lifting and Antje and I found Carla in what was left of her bedroom, sorting through her personal affects. We could tell that it was difficult for her to try and delegate this task to perfect strangers, so we cleaned surfaces and dispatched bags of clothes to the overloaded trash bin outside, as she filled them. Later, Antje and I took turns watching the Freeman's nine-month old granddaughter, so that the family could convene to assess their immediate needs and discuss a housing plan of action.

I don't know how much we were able to accomplish in the two and a half hours that our work schedule allowed us to be there, but I could not feel better about going. It just felt like the right place to be that morning. Our visit to the Freeman's home was overwhelming, emotional, and incredibly humbling. The physical devastation we found was all around us, and the sadness over what had been lost was certainly felt, but there was absolutely no self pity or despair. Instead, the Freeman's showed incredible strength and sincere gratitude that no lives were lost. Leon and Carla Freeman, and their extended family and friends, were warm, salt of the earth people. Their strength, faith, and perseverance will forever be with us, and I would like to thank them for blessing us by allowing us into their lives, however briefly.

About the Author

Musician 1st Class Jennifer Stothoff, a native of Roanoke, Va., joined the Sea Chanters in January 2002. She studied voice at Towson University, under the direction of Carolyn Black-Sotir, and graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science in vocal music.


Anonymous said...

No words deeds will ever sufficiently explain the incredible level of compassion the Sea Chanters have so beautifully demonstrated. It is my sincere prayer that God richly bless those whom you have touched with your hearts and deeds, and that He may, also, richly reward you with peace and joy for sharing unbounding love so unselfishly.

Anonymous said...

Leon & I would like to thank you and the others who helped us out that day. While much of those first few days were a blur, we vividly remember your generousity and willingness to jump right in & do whatever needed to be done. Please pass along our thanks to the others. May God bless you as you tour our country!

~ Leon & Carla Freeman
North Platte, NE

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, Antje, and and all--
The simple words "thank you" are not enough to show how thankful I am for your presence that day. As the mother of the Freeman's precious 9-month-old granddaughter, I had prayed that someone would be able to help me with my baby so I could be with my family that morning. I had asked several friends and family, none of whom were available. I am so grateful that your loving babysitting skills were just what I needed! **Amber (Freeman) Berliner