Saturday, April 10, 1999

House is a cheap price to pay for life

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Friday was garbage day on Eleanor Bardes' street. The cans still sit by the curb. Now, you can put her house out with the trash.

        “It's a total loss,” Eleanor told me. “We won't be living there anymore.”

        Even though she lost everything she owns in Friday's deadly tornado, Eleanor feels lucky. She and her husband of 38 years, Bruce Bardes, got out of their Cornell Road home “without a scratch.”

        Eleanor didn't miss any of the belongings she left behind. But she hoped to be reunited with Calvin and Hobbes. They're the family cats given to her by her daughter, Liz.

        “Calvin was on my bed when the storm hit,” Eleanor said. “When I went back upstairs after the tornado, part of the roof was on my bed and Calvin was gone.”

        Calvin and Hobbes are sisters. The 7-year-old cats are brown with black tiger stripes.

        “I know it's crazy at a time like this to wonder where your cats are,” Eleanor said. “But Calvin and Hobbes are a part of the family.”

        Eleanor told her story as she sat in the emergency shelter the Red Cross set up in the lunchroom of Sycamore Junior High School. She noticed the clock on the wall had stopped at 5:17 a.m.

        “That's about the time the tornado hit,” Eleanor said.

        She remembered waking up to the sound of thunder and the flashes of lightning. “I figured I better unplug the computer in case of a power surge.”

        Just then, sirens sounded. Bruce and Eleanor headed for the basement.

        “Just as we made it down there, the lights went out.”

        She remembers hearing the telltale theme song, the roar of a passing freight train.

        Then all was still.

        “It was all over in 30 seconds.”

        Eleanor and Bruce made their way upstairs. They wanted to get out of their pajamas and into something warmer.

        Unfortunately, their clothes and most of the second floor were gone.

        “I'm wearing a sweatsuit that a neighbor from down the road gave me,” Eleanor said. “I don't know her that well. She wanted to help because she felt blessed. Her house had been spared.”

        Eleanor's back yard also suffered at the hands of the tornado. Twenty tall pines, part of a grove of pine trees, were flattened.

        The trees lay scattered on the ground like giant toothpicks dumped from a box.

        For someone who had just lost the place she called home for 20 years in under a minute, Eleanor remained dry-eyed and clear-headed.

        “What can you do?” she said. “I can't do anything about it. I can't chase tornadoes away.”

        Eleanor may have lost her home. But her perspective on life remains intact.

        Sunday is her birthday. “I'm 29 and counting.”

        She figures she already has the best birthday gift anyone could ever receive.

        She's alive.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


Hope emerges from the rubble
Sirens worked, but some slept through
Families flew from their beds
Bengals coach: 'God's hand on me'
Driver got upside-down trip on freeway median
Photographer encounters death, devastation
- House is a cheap price to pay for life
Community safe, serene and vulnerable
In Addyston and Ripley County, some feel blessed just to be alive
Survivors eager to swap stories
Two died in field; two died on roads
Adjusters quick to arrive at disaster
To file a claim
Dealing with storm aftermath
Don't rush repairs after storm
Tips to picking a contractor
Kids need help to overcome grief, fears
Talking to kids
Phones, power out until Sunday
Rescue team did tough job
Storm could spur support for tax levy
Storms' memories linger after damage is repaired
Mobilization was instant
Tornado tales
TV/radio stations had reason to boast
Volunteers grab chain saws, mops as workers untangle wires
At least 7 businesses destroyed
911 calls reveal confusion, fear