I don't know what to say.
As a journalist since graduating college in 1995, I have been around a lot of disasters. A plane crash into a row of condominiums. A train derailment. House fires, apartment fires, floods. In order to be a good journalist, you have to keep calm, cool and a little bit detached.
But it's so much harder to do when the disaster hits your home. I've lived in Orchard River Hills and Huron Farms for the past 10 years, and count many of my neighbors as my closest friends. The tornado that hit our neighborhood Thursday flattened several homes, destroyed maybe two dozen and severely damaged countless more.
My house and my family are fine. And I am so relieved to say that, at least for the moment, it appears everyone in our neighborhood walked away unharmed. No one was injured, but we have a long road of rebuilding to do.
Walking around, seeing windows shattered in your friend's homes, peering into people's closets from the street, watching people walk up their living room stairs as if they were on some bizarre open-air movie set, was surreal.
Every year at Halloween, Huron Farms and Orchard River Hills (two adjoining neighborhoods constructed by different builders) become a madhouse of activity. People from all over Dexter drive in, lured in by our safe sidewalks, homes that are close enough to each other to make trick-or-treating a breeze, and the open, welcoming attitude that has made living here so genuinely enjoyable.
The neighborhood last night felt sort of the similar. Except instead of hay rides and cute kids, there was disaster everywhere.
That loving attitude was still there. Pete Potsos, a neighborhood resident, was walking around with a wrench in his hand, turning off the gas in homes that had been hardest hit. He didn't wait to be asked or wait for the police or firemen to do it -- he knew what needed to be done, and took care of it.
"I'm a Boy Scout," he said with a shrug. "I guess that's why."
There were a lot of hugs. A lot of tears. A lot of people checking in on friends. My eight-year-old son's best friend, Katie, came by as soon as she could to make sure he was OK. As the firemen went around checking on homes, tying yellow caution tape around doorknobs of homes that checked out OK, friends went around also touching base. People touched each other on the elbow or shoulder. "Are you guys OK?" "Everyone safe?" "What can I do for you?"
I found Saja Leier, one of my dearest friends, standing in the road. The windows in her house and her car were shattered. Her bedroom curtains were flapping in the wind. We hugged in the middle of the street for a long time -- thankfully she let me hang on to her long enough so I could keep myself from bursting into tears.
When the tornado hit, she was in the basement with her two daughters. "I felt it in my ears, there was this suction that just went pop," she said.
She and her husband Mike were planning to take the girls to a hotel, because the house is uninhabitable. As we walked around the house, she noticed (with the eye of someone who would make a good reporter) a plastic toy camel laying in the grass.
It's a mess. All of it. One huge, overwhelming mess.
"What do I do now," Saja said. "I mean, really. What do I do?"
I don't have the answer to that. There's no good reason why our neighborhood got hit, or why her house was hit and others stayed standing. But I do know that those affected won't be going through this alone. We may not be family, but we're a community. A pretty damn good one, too. We'll work it out.
Sharon Carty reports on the auto industry for The Huffington Post and is a resident of Dexter.