Still another day

Up until about 3:45 p.m. today, the word of the day had been anti-climactic.

A couple cohorts and I had spent the day covering the opening arguments for a murder trial. And I had just finished another blog post about the ordeal -- the fact that there we were covering the beginning of a trial we’d been anticipating for years. It’s a fascinating story full of twists and turns and deceit ready-made for a Lifetime movie. The national media has latched on to it … and yet we’ve heard and seen this case evolve so much that when today finally arrived, it all seemed somewhat ordinary to us …

Then, just after the judge had dismissed the jury and was about to settle a dispute between attorneys over a line of questioning, a sheriff’s deputy bursts into the courtroom and instructs us to evacuate to the basement of the courthouse.

“There’s a tornado warning!” he says.

We all looked up with dropped jaws … Right. Nu-uh. You’re kidding. It’s January!

But the court clerk pulled up the weather report on her computer. Yep, there was a tornado warning. The deputy continued to get information: a funnel cloud had been spotted and it was heading our way.

We grabbed our laptops, our pens, our notepads, our equipment and followed several other courtrooms of jurors, judges, attorneys and citizens to the basement -- but stopped first of course to gaze out the window at the darkened sky (Hey, we‘re journalists, we live for this kind of stuff!). A couple camera crews even started rolling to capture the scene …

In the basement we waited for nearly a half hour. But we laughed a lot too, mused about the state of the jurors, and joked about the notion of having to start the trial -- which has already suffered six years of delays -- over again, or even that something as crazy as a tornado in January could be cause for a mis-trial.

By 4:30, we were back to our third floor digs and our media room. Court was back in session (though not for long) and now we couldn’t make contact with anyone back in our office to relay our story. It turned out they had ducked into the basement too, and they were getting hit harder than we had .

By 5 we had learned that parts of our county and the north side of the city were hit pretty hard. Several homes had collapsed and my phone was ringing so fast with pages and text messages I could hardly keep up. Outside the rain was pelting the building …

Yep. It’s rare enough that we get a tornado in this region. But it happened in January. The high temperature today was 63; until today the highest temperature recorded here in January had been like 47.

A little after 6, Kates called and said she was home safe and sound. Meanwhile, I was just about to start my drive home, although not entirely sure how … We were stationed in the next county over, and we had heard the major highway connecting the two counties was flooded and consumed with damage.

All I could do was get in the car and find my way. I drove through battering rain, menacing fog and watched some fiery lightning in the east. Then, sure enough, when I got to the county line there were nearly a dozen squad cars from three different agencies rerouting traffic. It was virtually impossible to get into the county. …

I ended up driving several miles north, getting turned around in a small town, and eventually ended up at a rural gas station, just behind a semi-truck. I filled my gas tank, and went inside the store looking for some food. And the trucker had a map sprawled on the counter as he asked the clerk for directions to another major highway. They looked at me for advice as I walked in.

I threw up my hands. “You’re in the same boat I am,” I said, before joining them at the counter and deciding that the best route was for us to head back south, into Illinois and around the bottom edge of the county until we could hook up with the Interstate.

It took me nearly two hours to get home tonight. But it worked.

Now Kates and I are marveling at the news coverage on the TV, seeing all the damage, and feeling thankful that we’re ok.

Quite a day. I'm tired.

No comments: