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Column

When crises hit, look for the helpers. They’re probably right next door

We closed on our new home in Newton on the afternoon of Aug. 7.

For two blissful days, we filled that home with possessions from our home in Aurora, Ill. We watered sod. We bought milk and eggs and ketchup at Hy-Vee and light bulbs at Walmart. We swam at the Fred Maytag Pool.

And then, Monday, Aug. 10, just as the Windstream technician was explaining why it could be tough to get internet service to our house, a literal wind stream blew up out of nowhere, sending the tech to his truck and me to my basement ... that has windows. And a sliding glass door. And a lot of glass. I could see the trees, not 20 feet from our house, swaying frantically as rain flew by sideways. I could hear branches hitting the side of the house as the wind howled, and witnessed our metal outdoor chairs topple like toys. It was frightening.

The power went out early on but thank goodness for my cellphone. My trusty realtor, Ed Siddall with First Choice Realty, called shortly after things calmed down. “Welcome to Iowa!” he said. “Are you OK? Do you need anything?”

I was OK, my house was OK. I could see that several trees had been ripped in half or uprooted around our property. “Was it a tornado?” I asked. Ed didn’t know.

But we all soon found out it was a derecho that hit and later that afternoon I saw the devastation for myself. I tried to drive to my daughter’s house on the other side of town but found myself zigzagging around trees and power lines in the road.

They say after a powerful storm, like a hurricane or a tornado, there are a few moments of silence. Then people get busy. Chainsaws start up. Neighbors help neighbors patch roofs and pick up debris. Churches begin serving meals in their parking lots. One person who has power offers to do laundry for one who does not.

We were without power for six days. My daughter was on her eighth day of lights-out when her power sprang to life. Sure, tempers flared. You could see frustration in the drive-through lines at Domino’s and Arby’s when they were two of the few restaurants with power to serve customers.

Which leads me to believe what Newton experienced Aug. 10 was similar to what people in crisis experience all over the world. There are always helpers. They come with chainsaws or coolers. They come in groups or alone. They offer water or a shoulder to cry on. They go back to work and serve people who haven’t had a good night’s sleep or a hot shower for a week.

A Facebook friend mentioned how she had sympathy for trash collectors. What a job they had! But they went to work and picked up tons of spoiled food.

I have a feeling the sound of chainsaws and traces of burning wood and spoiled food will be with us awhile.

But it will be OK. Because I know firsthand there are lots of helpers here in Newton. And they aren’t going anywhere soon.

Amy Roth is a longtime journalist and photographer who was based in Aurora, Ill., but now lives in Newton.

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