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Live Life Fully: Had you even heard of a derecho three weeks ago?

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Derecho -- at first glance, it could be a new tortilla chip. Or the latest model of the Dodge Durango.

I'll lay odds, though, that a good portion of 1.7 million people -- the population of our state -- is now intimately familiar with the meteorological term, or at least its effects.

 What a difference a couple of weeks make! We've all survived so many things -- testing our patience, perseverance and pocketbooks.

Derecho (pronounced "dey-REH-cho") is a widespread windstorm created by large thunderstorms -- capable of wind speeds up to 100 mph.

Although derechos can produce destruction similar to tornados, the damage is typically focused in one direction. "Straight line wind damage" is sometimes used to describe derecho damage.

And that makes sense since it's a Spanish word defined as "direct" or "straight ahead." By contrast, the term tornado is derived from the Spanish word, tornar, which means to turn. Now, on to the human element.

We've all been through a lot. And everyone's experience deserves to be validated. It's all relative (or maybe it's about your relatives!)

Those without power scorned those who complained about their cable being off -- or their Internet being down. And those who sustained major damage to their houses and property didn't have a lot of patience for others who were just without services. The experiences have brought out the best, and the worst, in us.

I thought my husband, John, and I were on our way to earning joint merit badges for having sustained eight days without power -- before I learned of those in much more dire situations. Technically, we did the pioneer thing for three days before seeking shelter elsewhere and creating an affirmation for all who were in the same boat: "More power to us!"

 Just in our immediate circle of family and friends, we learned of several devastating events:

• Six trees falling on the house of one of our employees, causing the family to move

• Cars buried under trees, one needing $8,000 worth of repairs

• Power that came on and then went off again -- multiple times

• A classic car destroyed beneath a fallen tree

Kudos to all the utility workers who worked 'round the clock -- even fighting additional storms -- to restore electricity, water, telephone, cable and essential services. And to all those who volunteered to help out others.

Two stories had a particularly strong effect on me -- one from my fellow book club member, Nancy Canterbury, and another from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (passed along by Anne Barth), relaying a reporter's experience in our state.

Nancy is among our most resourceful members, so it didn't surprise us that she was out chopping tree branches after the storm. And, while she's very stoic, her experience would humble any of us. Here's an excerpt that defines courage under fire, as well as grace under pressure:

"Luckily, I was not using my chainsaw, but a type of raw-toothed pruning hand saw. A small tree was trapped under another, which I thought had been bent from the tree trapped on top. But when I cut through the top tree, the one underneath flew to freedom and whacked me in my chin, ripping a hole through to the inside and separating my gums from my teeth.

The ER nurse said it was the worst facial injury she'd ever seen, and the physician had to suture my gums back to my teeth. Fortunately, nothing was broken. It will take six months to a year for the feeling to return because of nerve damage, and I have to wear a bib to eat because I can't feel food or water on the right side of my mouth. We didn't have any home or auto damage. Thank goodness! However, we lost many old growth trees, and two of them are on our walking path in the woods."

Whew! Nancy always keeps a good attitude, and we're all sure she'll rebound -- just sorry she has to go through this. And, now for the reporter's story.

Karen Kane left Hilton Head, S.C., on June 30 to head home to Pittsburgh, unaware of the derecho. She mistakenly mentioned she was in Virginia during a cell phone call and was gently reprimanded by someone nearby that she was in "West-by-God-Virginia."

Karen was stranded without food, gas or supplies when a guy named Marty came along to inquire about her well being. "I don't know what we can do, but y'all can sit on the porch and have a cold drink while we think about it," Marty said, pointing to a red-roofed house above the gas station.

It turned out Marty was the son of the mayor of Fayetteville. When Karen and her new friends from Ontario (who were also stranded) got to the house, they were greeted with bottles of cold water and burgers on the grill.

The mayor disappeared, returning with a red gas can. "I filled this up yesterday so I could mow the grass," he said, adding that he would divide the liquid gold among the crew. It would be enough to keep their engines running while they waited in the long lines for gas.

"The power of Nature was evident," Karen said. " She had toyed with our urban trappings -- traffic signals, water plants, electrical lines -- like a toddler bored with her playthings. She had reminded us with her hot breath who was in charge."

"But the people of West-by-God-Virginia trumped Nature's whims. She could have her way with her wind and her hail, but they would have their say, too. And what they had to say was, "Sit down and have a cool drink and let us help you find your way home."

"West-by-God-Virginia? I say West-thank-God-Virginia- and-her-fine-citizens."

If they handed out Oscars for storm stories, I'd nominate that one for "Best Derecho."

Linda Arnold, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications company specializing in advertising, public relations, government relations and interactive marketing. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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