More Than a Whirlwind

By Marilyn Martin

I had returned to visit treasured friends I had made in the early 80's while working at University of Alberta Hospital. I will never forget that hot afternoon. I can't remember the date, but I remember that afternoon. The sun was blazing hot as I walked back to the apartment I was staying at. My friend, a nurse from the General, was sleeping after her night shift when I returned, so I quietly watched TV as they reported the change in the weather, the approaching storm and the advice to 'watch the sky'.

The afternoon that unfolded, is now etched in everyone's memory. Tragic for many. My friend and I huddled under a set of stairs. As we watched the effects of the storm - fear was palpable. We emerged from our shelter when we felt assured that the storm had passed. We started to hear of the damage. It was what I saw in the hearts and faces of Edmontonians that is forever engraved in my memory.

As my friend returned to work, I made my way to a relief centre where they put me to work. Safeway arrived with trucks of shopping carts (?) and a cooler truck. Tim Horton's arrived with trays of donuts, Swiss Chalet with trays of chicken, and it went on. They put me at the front door to direct people as they arrived with their donations of food, money and helping hands. I'll never forget a young boy who arrived with a fist full of 20 dollar bills and said 'this is to help whomever. I emptied my bank'. Another fellow arrived with a hammer and work gloves, just wanting to help. I soon understood why we needed shopping carts. It was for the constant run, back and forth, unloading the trunks of those arriving with food donations. The refrigeration truck started to fill with frozen meat and the cooler with fresh produce. I was overwhelmed by the faces, so eager, so willing to help, in any way.

Early in the afternoon, I was approached by one of the directors to gather food to take to the Capilano Hotel. Those evacuated from the trailer park and surrounding area were welcomed and cared for by the Red Cross at the hotel.

I didn't know where to begin. It was suggested we provide food for spaghetti. We gathered the ingredients we needed, and then searched for toiletries. We had everything from cases of toothbrushes to baby diapers, shampoo to deodorant.

The van was full as we made our way to the Hotel. I felt nervous, afraid that I had forgotten important items but I also felt like Santa Clause. Then the reality hit, as I looked at the faces of those affected by the storm. It was no longer about me. The pain and fear was written on their faces. We couldn't help enough. I saw volunteers setting up beds, people trying to entertain children and faces of care and compassion.

This visit has become a treasured memory of Edmonton. As I nestled into my seat on the train, ready for my return trip home, I was humbled at the fact that first I had survived but more, at the goodness of those around me. How I wish I could look into those faces again, to see if hope returned, but also into the hearts of the young teens and families that helped. Were their lives ever the same again? I bet not. Edmonton was devastated by the tornado, but what I remember most, was the beauty of those who make up this treasured city and helped it recover.

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