There was no time to prepare.
The river had already flooded; those who lived at its banks
had abandoned their homes to pass the night in the town hall, so
we carried them blankets then crossed Main Street to the Tavern,
and watched the rising, roaring river, the wind coming up, until suddenly
the Transcript building was shooting flames, which, fanned by the rising wind,
soon engulfed other structures, the fireman’s hoses helpless against the roaring
gale. Telephone poles and trees were falling, through gusts so loud,
we could only see, not hear them. We’d have to walk home,
because my father could not drive. We picked our way round downed
wires we feared might be live. On High Street, a tin roof torn
from one of the Larabie’s chicken houses came rolling
at us like a flying steamroller. That night, we slept
with our clothes folded at the base of the beds,
ready to evacuate, as the whole town
blazed with flames that leapt even
into our dreams.
By morning, the winds had calmed.
It was almost Biblical, fire and wind and rage
and the awful stillness that follows, leaving in its wake a world
suddenly flat, as we might have imagined a lunar landscape, leveled,
washed away, reduced to ash. All these years later, I cannot forget
how suddenly nature can rise to destroy, and how I came to know
swift, vicious loss.