The minute Cheryl Dell saw the ugly black cloud approaching Monday, she moved fast, snatching up her dog and hunkering down in a half bathroom at the center of her Lilley Road home.
"It was the storm of storms," she said later, standing on her porch after surveying the damage. A few doors north, red flashing lights from Canton fire trucks flickered around the neighborhood. Firefighters and police were watching an area where power lines had been snapped by neighbors' fallen trees. At its peak, more than 4,000 DTE customers in Canton were without power .
Neighbor Greg Hester assessed Dell's yard from across the street, where he was also watching fire and police crews.
"Her yard was first class," he said of the landscaping before the storm. "It was just like a picture out of Better Homes and Gardens."
From 'Picture Perfect' to Ruins
Elizabeth Schuch walked to Dell's house Monday evening to check on her neighbor.
"In all my years here, I've never seen anything like this," she said.
What she saw, all around Dell's 1-acre lot Monday, was evidence of ferocious winds, which toppled a prized blue spruce, planted in 1964. Nearby, box elders were splintered. Across the yard, a massive maple tree stood surrounded by its own torn branches and in the backyard, splits marked an expansive catalpa. Branches, leaves and shattered bark littered the lawn.
"There's a lot of bucket work that needs to be done," Dell sighed, referring to the tree surgeons she'll have to call for help. She's become a familiar customer this year; just last week a crew finished clearing damage from an earlier storm. An earlier storm did the least damage, so far, she said.
"I've never been through anything like this," said Dell, a retired teacher. "Not even the Green Storm took a tree down."
The Green Storm, which happened on July 16, 1980, got its name because the sky turned an eerie green shade as the system developed. That storm carried winds well over 100 miles an hour, according to the National Weather Service records.
'All is no more'
Dell has lived in her home since 1976, when she and her late husband bought the property from his parents. The home was built in 1957 and her in laws bought the property in 1964, she said.
"That blue spruce was a gift to them when they bought the house. I had a beautiful rock garden under it, with glass balls and birdbaths," she said, trailing off, then adding softly, "All is no more."
It all happened in less than five minutes, she said, when she and her dog were hiding in the bathroom.
Dell said she was unaware of the extent of damage until a couple who had been walking nearby knocked on her patio door. "I didn't even know these people," she said, adding that she first thought they might need shelter from the rain. "But they said they just wanted to check and see if I was OK. I said, 'Yeah, I'm OK, why shouldn't I be?"
Then she looked at her yard. The box elder had blocked her garage door and hit part of her roof, though the house appeared undamaged Monday evening.
"I think the this storm hit all my neighbors, but I seem to have gotten the worst of it," she said.
Parade of Onlookers
The storm had brought a steady stream of people to her door since the two strangers knocked, from reporters to relatives and even a team of investigators from the National Weather Service. As she spoke, a Channel 7 Action News truck idled in her driveway. She said WXYZ-TV, Channel 7 reporter Cheryl Chodun was "very nice," but Dell said she didn't want to go on camera because she'd been working in her yard, assessing damage.
"But look," she said, pointing to a parade of cars making slow passes by her house, including one van with its side door open. "It's been like this all day."
The fact that the area was without power didn't seem to phase Dell in the least. "If it rains, we lose power," she said with a chuckle. "I have a generator."
Losing the blue spruce is another story. "I'll have to get another one," she said. "I've got to have my blue spruce."