I never had a basement since I moved to Southern Illinois in the early 2000s, so I always found a safe place to go if really bad weather rolled in.
And I never took my dog before.
The morning of May 8, 2009, my wife and I talked about going over to her parents' house in the afternoon because bad weather was supposed to be coming. Bad enough to not watch television through it. Bad enough that there was a strong chance of damaging winds and we might have to take shelter, and for some reason I thought I should take my beagle, Dawson. My wife's parents had dogs, so at least he could play if nothing happened, but for some reason, I felt he might be in danger if we left him.
When he started scratching the floor of the bathroom when we went down there, we knew something was happening. I remember huddling with him, my wife, our 5-month-old daughter, my wife's parents, and Dawson in the basement. I also remember looking at my phone, as it was losing its last 15 percent of power, and showing the radar to my wife and saying, "You know, if I didn't know any better, it looks like an inland hurricane right in the middle of Illinois."
The May 8 derecho wiped out power in Carbondale for a couple of days and put so many trees on the roads leading to our house that we couldn't return for almost a week. Everything in our fridge went to waste, but our home was not damaged. A large tree fell onto the driver's side of my wife's Dodge pickup truck, but not enough to total it, unfortunately. I got stranded with that truck more than any vehicle our family has ever owned, so I was ready to replace it or have God do it for me.
I probably wouldn't be here today because I would have been the dumb one that had to go rescue my dog off Country Club Road, and walked on an open power line. We did help some people move some logs and some branches when we made our way back a few days after the storm, but there was no power there for about six days.
It was about the closest I hope I ever get to a zombie apocalypse. Everything was dark when we drove to Du Quoin to get gas, dinner, and some formula for our daughter. We passed two gas stations where people were waiting six cars deep, kind of like on Sept. 11, and an attendant ran out and screamed, "I'm sorry, but we're out of gas!" We had about a quarter of a tank when we left for Du Quoin, which turned out to be like Las Vegas when we got out of Jackson County in terms of going from pitch black to civilization.
I was able to charge my phone the 20 minutes there and 20 minutes back, but worked out of my wife's parents' house off sheer battery the rest of the week. After we got some essentials, I spent the early evening driving around campus and surveying the damage at McAndrew Stadium, Abe Martin Field and the officies at SIU Arena. McAndrew Stadium's scoreboard was missing about a fourth of its panels, and the baseball stadium had damaged outfield walls. The arena largely avoided any major damage, other than a flooded office or two.
SIU had to cancel its big baseball series against Wichita State, and the Shockers had to drive for a little bit to find a place to eat on their way home because everything directly west of Murphysboro was dark. The storm took a strangely straight path right down Illinois 13, and tried its best to level everything. Ameren Illinois had to replace several power poles, and teams from all the country descended on Southern Illinois to help people clean up trees or damaged roofs. Some of them were not genuine, unfortunately.
The next day, I covered SIU's outdoor graduation at McAndrew Stadium, and spoke to some folks who were happy to walk, even if it wasn't where they thought they would. Our office at The Southern Illinoisan was worthless because it didn't have power, so I wrote at my wife's parents' house off the battery. I literally used candles to light the way the first two nights.
We were one of the lucky ones. We had a generator for a couple of hours a day, so I was able to make coffee in the morning and take a really quick hot shower. We had to get creative on how we cooked for a couple of days, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
Having Dawson there made it all better. And now, every time he digs at the base of the shower when bad weather is forecasted, we pick everything up and leave.