Landscape after tornado

Katarzyna Woynarowska

‘I saw trees that lay down like grass’, said Grazyna from our editorial board who lives in Blachownia, the village that was on the way of the August tornado wreaking havoc on the half of the country. And the way led through the region of Opole, Silesia, Mazowsze and the northern part of the country to stop in the Mazury and Warmia districts. Four people were killed; several dozens were injured. A bus with the folk ensemble ‘Slask’ inside was rolled over; cars and trailers, construction elements flew in the air. Trees fell on the roads with a roar. Thousands of broken roofs, torn walls behind which the raging element sucked furniture as well as windows with curtains. Several dozens of devastated villages and small towns. Thousands of despaired people whose worlds fell in several minutes. They saved their lives – this is important but they lost a lot – it is hard to cope with that. We go to them passing forests that look as if an infuriated giant that twisted huge tress in the middle of their trunks raged in them. Broken branches, destroyed twisted stretches of forests… beautiful Polish forests. In some villages where the element slightly touched the buildings rolls of tarpaper lie in front of the gates. You can see a torn fence, broken garden tree here and there… Then the landscape abruptly changes into a drama…

Two villages and one town

‘Which factors make a typhoon, tornado, whirlwind or twister sweep this particular part of the country? Why do they not go through forests, fields, and fallows but destroy a whole village in half a minute? Why do they choose this side of the road? Which factors make them sweep this side of the village? In one street they choose one house and leave the house next to it’, Stanislaw from Stobiecko near Radomsko asks a rhetorical question. How can you explain ‘the choice of the element’ that condemns some people to despair and leave some to feel relief? When the shot-putter Tomasz Majewski won a gold Olympic medal and Poland was mad with happiness, Sr. Klara, belonging to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and living in Blachownia, looked right. It was several minutes to 6 p.m., the time for the evening Mass on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The air was so heavy that you could cut it with a knife. So she looked right and felt chilly air on her back. In the west there was a grey, heavy cover of clouds. She had never seen anything like that before. An ominous sight, sheer horror as if some cataclysm was bound to happen. Intuition? She began running towards the church. She had hardly touched the door handle when she heard a whistle. She did not see ‘that’, she did not look back, she yanked the door and at the threshold she began singing strong the song ‘God of Abraham’, imploring God for mercy. The people sitting in the pews turned back their heads in astonishment. And then the walls of the church began crackling and the ceiling began trembling when the cross with a ball came down from the tower. It lasted one or two minutes. And then there was silence, such silence in which there is only emptiness. After a while you could hear tumult; people were crying and lamenting; and they began calling each other. Sr. Klara did not stop singing… Sometimes when you are to face a tragedy it is good to build up one’s strength to face the sight. And some people were running towards their houses the roofs of which had already been ripped off; the walls were partly destroyed and the gardens were devastated. The roof from the grocer’s ‘Prazynka’ flew to the other side of the street onto the roof of the town hall in Blachownia. The firemen did not permit people to return to their houses the constructions of which were destroyed by the tornado. It was too dangerous. In Piastow Street the whirlwind rolled up the roofs of almost all houses like carpets. The trees ‘jumped’ from the ground, torn out up by some invisible power. In the corner a big lime tree protrudes with its roots directed to the sky, together with a metal bicycle stand. The whirlwind reached the village of Kalina, a few kilometres from Blachownia in the direction of Opole, which is a quiet place hidden behind the forests – a place where people usually make trips on their bikes – just before 6 p.m. Now there are 80 damaged houses in this tiny village. The firemen are making short work of the battlefield. They have come even from the distant town of Wadowice. They worked in heavy rain, thunders and lightings, which hit the darkness of the night. The relatives and friends came. Moreover, strangers helped the victims.
– Each house looks the same; a tarpaulin over the roof and slats to keep it firm. Improvised arrangement. A pitiful view but this must do for the time being…, say the tired firemen. ‘We carry new roof tiles in wheelbarrows. In quiet Kalina two people died under the heaps of their own houses…

Helpers and gawking passers-by

Two fire brigade engines have blocked the street for two days. Soldiers with big tents arrived at the site as well. ‘It’s not worth the trouble’, say the local people, ‘nobody will allow to be evacuated. Reportedly, looters are hanging around. Even if the roof is hanging by the skin of its teeth we will not leave our houses.’ ‘No gawking passers-by’, says a policeman threateningly, standing on the road to Stobiecko. ‘People come here to look at other people’s misfortune. They blocked the way of the fire brigade engines. The worst are those holding a beer in one hand and a mobile phone with a camera in the other. They take pictures as souvenirs. Even the greatest tragedy will not teach some people anything… Just after the tornado had swept I phoned Czestochowa’, says Fr Stanislaw Kotyl, the parish priest from Stobiecko. ‘Archbishop Stanislaw Nowak wrote a letter to the faithful asking them for help. The directors of the Charity Works of the Archdiocese of Czestochowa Fr Stanislaw Ilczyk and Fr Ryszard Umanski arrived at the place immediately. They brought what was most needed – food. But I think that they will return with a long-term help’, says Fr Kotyl. ‘The animals knew. My big dog wanted to go under the small coach. It was terribly humid. And it was silent. People say that something is in the air. I was standing with a mug of coffee at the threshold, looking at the grey-brownish thundercloud when something grated above me and …the wall in my living room collapsed. The trunk of the tree, which fell together with the wall, bordered on my arm. Suddenly I had a panoramic view over the forest that banked to the right evenly like it were drilled. And it did not rise. Now I am thinking whether I will be like these trees. Will I be able to establish myself on a firm financial footing? This house is all of my family’s possessions… I do not know what else to say?’, a tall man almost bursts into tears. He is all wet like all things around him. In another place five men put a carpet dripping with water on the fence with much difficulty. A woman carries a quilt and pillows to the garden. Her husband carries armchairs. He puts pictures against the sidewall. He hangs clothes closely on the fence. The woman hides her face with her hands. Her husband takes her hand and kisses it. They stand in an embrace in the background of the white little house, which has only the ground floor and two columns that must have supported the porch. Till yesterday…
– Please tell me why this has happened. My next-door neighbour still has blooming geranium in the flowerpots; the wind did not move any roof tiles from the houses of my neighbours on the left and on the right. And the tornado came to me. It came to me personally. I am a chosen one. This dirty trick cut my house in the first floor. Cut as if with a knife. Evenly. I had hardly managed to push my family to the cellar when pieces of metal and paper began flying in the air… Is there any logic in that?!, the man waves his hand in front of the house in Kalina as if he wants to show the measure of his misfortune and helplessness facing the matters we can never have any influence on.
– If the tornado had swept two meters away from this place… But it did not and there is no logic in this.

Life goes on

The press spokesman of the Silesian firemen Junior Captain Aneta Golebiowska reports about 3,500 firemen who arrived at the spot immediately, on the evening of 15 August, to help the victims of the cataclysm. 80 houses have been damaged only in this tiny village of Kalina. About 80 houses have been damaged in Stobiecko. Going A1 one can see completely ruined houses and spider-bent trees. The meteorologists say that we need to get used to cataclysms. The greenhouse effect, climate changes, wasteful exploitation of natural resources in the distant Amazonian region leave their marks on Eastern Europe. Tornadoes and twisters ravage over our heads. Someone from the crisis centre gives advice, ‘Let us learn to build houses with solid roofs so that the wind will not tear them off. One should help the despaired now and here. To rebuild their houses, to buy furniture and clothes because the raging tornado took them. Near Radomsko there are people who are still looking the roofs of their houses. There are children who run to the cellars when they see dark clouds. There are dogs that do not leave their kennels. Wanda (74) from Stobiecko thanks God that her family was saved. The house she had lived in for over 50 years was damaged. ‘We will build a new house; good people will help us’, she says and cries. ‘Life goes on, doesn’t it?’ Five couples had weddings the next day after the tragedy in the miraculously saved church. Life goes on…

"Niedziela" 35/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: