Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Roof Is Risen, Indeed

Three days ago, on Easter Sunday, Ma'ikwe lost the northwest quadrant of her roof in a thunderstorm. It was pretty wild.

The storm came up suddenly from the west (which is always where they come from) and when the rain hit, it blew open the door on that side of the house, because the strike plate was mounted a little high and the bolt doesn't quite catch. In the fierce wind, it took both Ma'ikwe and Kay (her mother visiting from Jackson MI) to push the door shut against the driving sheets of horizontal rain. In the chaotic moment, amidst the freight train howl of the wind, the two women were wholly focused on protecting the kitchen and Ma'ikwe's bed from getting soaked and no one realized for a time that the wind had been working on the roof as well as the door... that is, until Duncan (a neighbor boy visiting Ma'ikwe's son Jibran) said he thought he heard a noise up above while the women were wrestling with Zephyrus on the ground level. When Ma'ikwe glanced out her south window to investigate, she was gobsmacked by the vision of several of her roof panels roosting in a tree 75 yards downwind.

A Good Place to Be in a Storm
By the time Ma'ikwe got through to me by phone (I was at Sandhill, three miles away, when the storm hit and our phone was tied up with a community member on a conference call) and I was able to get over to Dancing Rabbit (not knowing how bad the damage was or how many buildings had been affected), it was immediately relieving and heart warming to see at least 15 neighbors swarming around the house removing stray screws and nails, placing temporary tarps over the hole in the roof (which saved the ceiling drywall), gathering up the errant roofing, and giving Ma'ikwe consoling hugs in unlimited quantities.

Fortunately, no one was injured worse than Jibran, who had opened up a cut between his toes when he stepped barefoot on a stabilizing chevron poking out of the ground at the bottom of a metal marker post in Ma'ikwe's yard, as he was racing around trying to help get the roof covered. This ultimately required a tetanus shot (and the inconvenience of his wearing shoes), but he'll heal fine.

While no one wishes natural disasters to happen, they do anyway. Given that one befell my wife, it was very fortunate that it happened in community, where friends and neighbors were immediately there for her, to help contain the damage and help her pick up the pieces, both physically and psychically. This kind of experience highlights the ways in which relationships are the ultimate security.

Improvisational Art
Ma'ikwe had chosen to insulate her ceiling with blown-in cellulose. While this is generally installed with the intention of its being a one-way application, we enjoyed the novelty of experiencing blown-out cellulose. After the storm, the exterior of Ma'ikwe's house looked like someone had crudely attempted to paper mache it, with little wads of gray-flecked newsprint uniformly distributed over every surface. Kind of arty, but we'll be glad it'll be cleansed by the spring rains to come.

As it turned out, our county had been under a tornado watch during the storm—meaning that conditions were favorable (an interesting turn of phrase) for a one to develop—and as near as I can figure, Ma'ikwe's house must have come pretty damn close to experiencing tornado force winds (you should see some of the pretzel-like curlicues that her metal roofing was wind-sculptured into). Her house was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fortunately, intense destructive winds like that are highly localized and hers was the only building that sustained damage in the storm (a canvas army tent erected just 20 feet to the north of the damaged roof was capriciously left untouched).

What Went Wrong?
One the one hand, there's a practical limit to how strongly anything should be build, and it's hard to fault anyone for not constructing a roof sufficiently stout to survive a direct attack by freakishly strong winds. That said, the weak link in the roof system was that the purlins had been nailed—not screwed—into the rafters, and when the wind started lifting under the corner of the overhang (where the fascia and soffits had not yet been completed because the 2009 construction season ended before the house was finished) it pried the purlins out of the rafters with the metal roofing acting like a sail. Kind of like a giant pop-top.

You can be sure that when Ma'ikwe rebuilds next week that she'll screw in the purlins this time around.

Chutes and Ladders: the Construction Version
As it happens, Ma'ikwe is uneasy with heights, and she was thrilled last fall when she thought that roof work was completed. Surprise! Now she gets to do it some of it again.

While she woke up Monday morning with considerably more to do to complete her house than remained when she woke up the day before, the good news is that it only takes time and money to correct. We're already able to laugh about it (some), and glimpse the enjoyment we'll get out of this story in years to come—when we're telling it to folks gathered around the wood stove on a snowy winter night with the wind howling outside and we're cozy under the warm, secure roof.


Unknown said...

Wow! glad there weren't serious injuries. Urban dwellers I think get a bit more warning about dangerous storms... though the sirens go off so much here that we tend to ignore them (since they go off if there's a serious storm anywhere in the county, I think -- but if you then listen to the radio you can decide whether or not the storm is headed your way.)

Galliena Gornet said...

Ouch! That's really an unforgettable experience for Ma'ikwe. Losing a quadrant of a roof rarely happens, but it's still sad that it happened to her. But from what you've just said, it's good that no one was hurt during the incident.