This story was submitted to Broadneck Patch by Cape St. Claire resident Kathleen Mooneyhan, with credit to the entire Young family for sharing their story, edits and photos.
All his life, George Young had wanted to be closely connected to the weather.
He pursued a degree in it in college and always considered himself a bona fide “unofficial meteorologist” despite getting a degree in business. So on the night of Friday, June 29, it was no surprise to him that a powerful storm system with intense straight line winds – the now-infamous “derecho” – was headed toward Cape St. Claire. As George described it, “while the mainstream news outlets did not provide much information in advance of the storm, those in the weather community started following it mid-morning; and as a ‘weather fanatic,’ I wanted to see it.” And see it, he would – but it in a way he never imagined.
As the first gusts of the storm blew through the Cape, George realized that it was “the real deal” and it might be wise to get everyone down to the basement immediately. So he went upstairs and woke his wife, Michele, to tell her what was happening. But after a brief conversation, they decided to give it another minute or two to better determine what was going on before they woke up their little girls (daughter Madison, 15, was at a friend’s house down on College Parkway, but Josephine, 3, and Helana - “Lainey” - 2, were asleep upstairs). So George headed back downstairs with a plan to take one last look at both the radar on TV and the conditions outside. But by the time he reached the bottom of the steps, that plan quickly changed as the power went out.
After less than a minute at the window, George saw a tremendous flash of lightning that lit up the sky for several seconds, which revealed a never-before-seen image to him and he realized what he saw in that time was unlike anything he’d seen before. “When the lightning flashed for what seemed like at least five seconds, I literally saw and heard the air draw straight up into the sky” and because of his knowledge of weather, he knew “that meant a big downburst was about to come.” He also knew immediately that the storm had reached a point of intensity where it was definitely time to alert his family to move to the basement immediately for safety.
So George took one step away from the front window and yelled up the steps to his wife, Michele, to “get the kids now!” And in that very moment, which George described as a “moment where total darkness allowed for nothing else to exist,” he heard the loudest sound he has ever heard as the word “now” left his mouth and he felt the house “literally shake all around.”
Shortly after this point, things went completely off the charts. As George turned back to face the front of the house, he realized a very large tree was laying right next to him – across the very spot he had just moved from. And then, as more lightning lit up the scene around him, George also realized that not only had a tree landed in their house, but that the entire roof system of the whole left side of their home was dangling precariously close above him as he was literally stared up at the sky above.
After several seconds of staring in disbelief, George snapped out of his daze when he heard Michele screaming “Oh my God…Oh my God!” over and over from the upstairs bedroom. George somehow managed to push his way through a pile of debris that he couldn’t even see and quickly made his way up the stairs towards Michele’s voice. There, they found themselves having a bizarre conversation in total darkness with no frame of reference for anything around them.
“I can’t find Lainey!” Michele said. Confused, George replied, “What do you mean you can’t find Lainey, she was asleep in her bed, right?” It was then that they both looked into their two little girls’ shared bedroom and quickly saw why Lainey was “missing” – a huge hole was in the front wall of the house facing Cape St. Claire Road and there was an equally large hole in the roof.
Fortunately, Josephine, whose bed was right next to the hole in the front wall, had been sleeping with Michele, so she was safe; but there was still no Lainey, who went to sleep in her bed in that room sometime after 8PM.
With no other option but to literally try to dig down into Lainey’s bed to see if she was still there, Michele and George did just that – they dug and they dug and they dug. And with only flashes of lighting providing them with some kind of light, they frantically dug through “mounds of fluffy stuff” as they pulled other debris from around the bed until they finally found their youngest daughter at the bottom. Scared, and equally incredulous at what had happened, they pulled little Helana out and held her up, only to find her totally unresponsive. “She just didn’t move,” said Michele. “She was like a rag doll.”
On the verge of panic, yet not quite able take in the enormity of the circumstances, George and Michele tried to get Lainey to respond by calling her name, blowing on her face and sweeping her mouth clear with a finger. As they recall, it took 15-20 seconds until they saw any sign of life from Lainey, which was a huge relief as they started to experience a reality in which they “had almost lost our kid.” With Helana revived, they turned their attention to getting to the only safe place they could think of to ride out the rest of the still-angry storm – the basement.
Once there, with the storm still raging, George went to the back of the house to try to find a flashlight and there he saw “a strange zigzagging light” through a window facing the back yard. As he investigated, he realized it was their neighbor, Terry Williams, a retired fire fighter who had lived in the house on the corner for several decades, was searching their house in an attempt to help. George quickly opened the basement door to let in his visibly worried, but extremely focused neighbor who wanted to know only one thing: “Is everyone okay?” From that point, Michele and George used Terry’s flashlight to check everyone over for visible injuries, with relief, finding that no one had any apparent injuries.
Terry later told George and Michele that as he looked out of his back door, he saw a large flash of lightning light up the entire sky and saw the tree falling. He stated he feared the worst for them because “it was just too quiet” as he walked around the outside looking for a way in. Finally, once they were all accounted for, Terry asked the Youngs’ to follow him through their yards in an effort to take refuge inside of his home next door.
Once inside the Williams’s house, Terry and his wife, Pam, got the Young family situated on the couch and tried to make them as comfortable as possible, offering them not only shelter, but also some juice for the kids and a few beers for George and Michele for “medicinal purposes.” And as the drinks kicked in and the storm finally passed around 2-3am, the totality of what had happened to their home started to sink in.
“Never in million years would I have ever thought that something like this would happen,” stated Michele. “I mean, you think maybe a tree could fall and damage your house” Michele added, “but not totally destroy it.” George agreed, as he said he had “instant mortality issues” once they got into Terry and Pam’s house as he fully considered his close call with death. Despite all of the chaos, though, Michele and George both acknowledged their overall good fortune and commented on how they quickly began to accept the fact that they were lucky to finally fall asleep that night knowing that everyone was okay – including their two Weimaraners, Diesel and Napoleon – and that they could begin to rebuild soon enough.
After daybreak on Saturday, the family was able to see the extent of the damage, and it was only then that they realized it was not just one tree, but three connected trees, that had hit their house, which explained the widespread damage. They also realized how a steady stream of neighbors began passing by, as well, and they noticed the general response of shock from the passersby at what had happened to their home overnight, with many even stopping to take pictures or video with cell phones. But, the Young’s said, they weren’t at all offended by the interest in their personal disaster because they understood that people “just couldn’t believe what they were seeing.” In fact, it wasn’t long before the Young’s started receiving an overwhelming outpouring of generosity and support from residents and businesses of our community, which they say they will never forget.
One of the first Cape businesses to offer their assistance was Richard’s Tree Service. George and Michele said that they had done business with Richard’s in the past and that the company told them that because they were customers already and because of the severity of the damage, they would move them “to the top of the list.” And so they did, quickly removing the trees from their home before 10am.
Also early that morning they met local real estate agent Amy Juras, who stopped by to offer her assistance for finding temporary housing. The Young’s said Amy’s knowledge of the real estate business combined with her personal and professional connections is what landed their family – including Diesel and Napoleon – in a fully-furnished, long-term rental house less than a half-mile away in the Cape in just five short days, which, they said, “was nothing short of a miracle considering what we were looking at on Saturday morning.”
And the show of support continued throughout the day, as many other Cape residents and businesses helped them pull together in the storm’s aftermath. There was Bruce Dowling of Broadneck Carpentry Service, who gave them insight into the rebuilding process from first daylight. There was also Heather and Scott Fitzgerald, owners of The Chimney Guy, who helped the family by not only driving George to get a rental car but also obtaining some emergency supplies at Home Depot; they even brought dinner to them once they got into their rental home. And later that day, there was Cape resident Deb Dower McCleary, who approached the Young family as they stood in their driveway with their dogs in the back of their broken family van, and offered “her own version of a doggy daycare,” which gave Diesel and Napoleon a place to play for a few days before the Young’s could move into their temporary quarters (a big thanks to Greg McCleary, too, who had just returned home from a 70-day tour in Afghanistan). And, to be sure, there were countless others.
In the end, while Michele said the whole ordeal was “a pretty traumatic experience that they’d never want to have to go through again,” they were proud of their community and glad they were all able to return to the Cape to watch the Fourth of July parade from their front yard despite the fact that it was “in front of a house we knew we wouldn’t be in for a long time.” And she and George want to “thank our wonderful community for coming together and really caring.” George added that “we always knew it was a great community” but also said that “events like this often bring out personal connections you might not have gotten otherwise, so it’s a bit of a blessing in disguise.”
Speaking of blessings in disguise, looks like that early weather connection finally paid off!